Skip to main content

Full text of "The free Negro in Virginia, 1619-1865"

See other formats






Submitted  to  the    Board  of   University  Studies  of  The   Johns 

Hopkins  University  in  Conformity  with  the  Requirements 

for  the  Degree  of    Doctor  of  Philosophy 




V  \  A 







CHAPTER     I.  Number   and   Distribution   of   the   Free 

Negroes    9 

CHAPTER  II.  The  Origin  of  the  Free  Negro  Class  ...  16 

CHAPTER  III.  Manumission    42 

CHAPTER  IV.  The  Legal  Status  of  the  Free  Negro  ...  88 

CHAPTER   V.  The  Social  Status  of  the  Free  Negro  . .  123 



The  history  of  the  free  negro  in  the  slave  States  forms 
one  of  the  most  interesting  chapters  in  the  history  of  slavery 
in  this  country.  A  number  of  valuable  monographs  dealing 
with  the  history  of  the  negro  or  with  the  institution  of 
slavery  in  the  various  States  have  been  published  during 
recent  years,  but  no  one  of  them,  so  far  as  the  author  is 
aware,  has  been  devoted  exclusively  to  the  status  or  history 
of  the  antebellum  free  negro  in  a  particular  Commonwealth 
of  the  Union.  Such  studies  are  needed,  and  it  is  hoped  that 
the  present  monograph  will,  as  far  as  Virginia  is  concerned, 
supply  this  need.  Moreover,  as  a  study  of  the  free  negro  in 
the  State  in  which  the  African  first  made  his  appearance  in 
America,  it  should  supply  some  of  the  facts  upon  which  the 
history  of  the  negro  race  in  the  United  States  must  be  based. 
Upon  the  constitutional  side  it  is  hoped  that  the  study  will 
be  an  aid  to  a  correct  conception  of  the  purposes  sought  to 
be  realized  by  the  adoption  of  the  Fourteenth  Amendment. 

The  author  takes  this  opportunity  to  acknowledge  his 
indebtedness  to  Professor  W.  W.  Willoughby  for  the 
scholarly  guidance  and  stimulating  criticism  which  were  at 
his  service  in  all  stages  of  the  work.  It  is  a  pleasure  also 
to  acknowledge  his  obligation  to  Professor  J.  C.  Ballagh,  at 
whose  suggestion  the  study  was  undertaken.  In  the  im 
portant  work  of  discovery  and  valuation  of  the  sources 
Professor  Ballagh's  generous  direction  was  of  particular 
value.  The  author  is  also  indebted  to  Professors  J.  M.  Vin 
cent  and  G.  E.  Barnett  for  helpful  suggestions. 

Acknowledgment  of  special  obligation  is  likewise  due  to 
Professor  Charles  Henry  Ambler,  of  Randolph-Macon  Col 
lege,  who  placed  in  the  author's  hands  notes  of  great  value 
which  he  had  made  upon  the  subject  of  this  monograph. 
For  courtesies  extended  by  officials  in  charge  of  county  and 



state  archives,  sincere  thanks  are  here  given.  From  the 
discussion  of  various  phases  of  the  subject  with  Dr.  H.  J. 
Eckenrode,  archivist,  and  Mr.  Earl  G.  Swem,  assistant 
librarian,  of  the  Virginia  State  Library,  suggestions  of  great 
value  were  received.  Mr.  William  G.  Stanard,  librarian  of 
the  Virginia  Historical  Society,  courteously  placed  at  the 
author's  disposal  valuable  manuscripts. 

J.  H.  R. 




At  the  beginning  of  the  Civil  War  there  were  in  Virginia 
nearly  sixty  thousand  free  negroes.1  This  number  was  far 
in  excess  of  the  number  of  free  colored  persons  in  any  other 
of  the  great  slave  States,  being  about  double  the  number  in 
North  Carolina,  the  State  which,  south  of  Virginia,  had  the 
largest  free  colored  population.  It  was  in  excess  of  the 
free  negro  population  in  any  State,  slave  or  free,  with  the 
exception  of  Maryland.  In  1860  the  entire  number  of 
negroes  in  New  York  and  New  England  combined  was  but 
little  greater  than  the  number  of  free  negroes  in  Virginia. 
According  to  every  Federal  enumeration  from  1790,  the 
aggregate  negro  population  of  the  State  of  Pennsylvania 
was  smaller  than  the  free  colored  population  of  Virginia, 
and  from  1830  to  1860  the  same  may  be  said  of  New  York. 
At  the  beginning  of  the  nineteenth  century  the  sum  of  the 
free  negro  populations  in  New  York,  New  Jersey,  and  Penn 
sylvania  was  only  about  a  thousand  more  than  the  number 
of  free  negroes  in  Virginia.2  Of  the  free  negro  population 
of  the  United  States,  Virginia  had  about  one  eighth.3 

1  Except  where  specific  reference  is  made  in  footnotes  to  the 
sources,  the  statistical  facts  in  this  chapter  are  based  on  the  United 
States  decennial  censuses,  1790-1860. 

3  St.  G.  Tucker,  A  Dissertation  on  Slavery,  p.  70  n. 

*  It  must  be  kept  in  mind  that  free  mulattoes  and  all  other  free 
persons  having  negro  blood  are  included  in  the  use  of  the  word 
"  free  negroes."  The  term  includes  the  persons  enumerated  in  the 
census  reports  under  the  caption,  "  all  other  [than  white]  free  per 
sons  except  Indians  not  taxed."  In  1771  the  general  court  ruled 
that  negro  or  mulatto  servants  and  apprentices  were  to  be  considered 
free  negroes.  It  is  in  this  broadened  sense  that  the  word  is  used  in 
this  work  when  used  without  qualifying  words  (Howell  v.  Nether- 
land,  Jefferson's  Reports,  90). 


IO  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

The  condition  which  made  the  free  negro  question  in  Vir 
ginia  unique  and  peculiarly  interesting  was  that  in  that  State 
only  was  there  so  large  a  free  colored  population  living  in 
a  society  so  vitally  connected  with  and  dependent  upon 
slavery.  It  requires  but  little  imagination  to  see  why  a  free 
negro  population,  numbering  from  twenty  to  sixty  thousand 
between  1800  and  1860  and  living  among  a  slave  population 
almost  as  numerous  as  the  dominant  white  element,  created 
social  problems  more  perplexing  than  those  of  New  Eng 
land,  where  the  negroes,  few  in  number,  were  almost  all 
free,  and  race  problems  different  from  those  of  other  great 
slave  States  where  the  free  negroes  were  too  few  to  con 
stitute  a  conspicuous  factor  in  the  social  order.  With 
society  in  a  large  area  of  Virginia  composed  of  about  an 
equal  number  of  masters  and  slaves,  an  additional  element 
of  free  negroes  in  the  proportion  of  one  to  about  eight  slaves 
acted  in  no  sense  as  an  aid  to  facilitating  the  association  of 
the  two  races. 

Prior  to  a  law  of  1782  which  removed  the  restrictions 
upon  the  right  to  manumit  slaves  by  will,  the  number  of 
free  negroes  relative  to  the  number  of  slaves  or  white  per 
sons  was  very  much  smaller  than  in  any  decade  after  the 
passage  of  that  act.  From  1619  to  the  end  of  the  century, 
when  custom  and  the  law  were  fixing  the  status  of  the  Vir 
ginia  negro,  no  satisfactory  statistical  estimate  can  be  made 
of  the  number  of  free  negroes  in  the  colony.  In  1670  Gov 
ernor  Berkeley  estimated  the  total  number  of  "  black  slaves  " 
in  the  colony  at  two  thousand.4  Although  he  made  no  ref 
erence  to  any  free  negroes,  there  is  ample  evidence  to  show 
that  there  were  some  in  the  colony  at  this  time.  In  1691 
and  1723  laws  were  enacted  which  limited  the  increase  of 
the  free  negro  class  to  natural  means  and  to  manumissions 
by  special  legislative  acts.5  These  limitations  upon  manu 
mission  remained  in  force  till  1782,  when,  according  to  the 
reliable  statement  of  a  contemporary,  the  free  negro  class 
numbered  about  twenty-eight  hundred.  Supposing  the 

4W.  W.  Hening,  Statutes  at  Large  of  Virginia,  vol.  ii,  p.  515. 
"Ibid.,  vol.  iii,  pp.  87,  88;  vol.  iv,  p.  132. 


ninety-one  years  between  1691  and  1782  to  be  sufficient  time 
for  the  numbers  of  the  free  negroes  to  have  doubled  three 
times  by  natural  increase,  we  may  judge,  by  counting  back 
ward  on  the  basis  of  Tucker's  estimate  in  1782,  that  in  1691 
the  number  of  free  negroes  in  the  colony  was  about  three 
hundred  and  fifty.6 

The  frequency  with  which  this  class  of  persons  is  men 
tioned  in  church  and  court  records  between  1690  and  1782 
gives  a  further  appearance  of  reliability  to  the  above  esti 
mate.  In  1724  the  reports  of  certain  Virginia  clergymen 
to  the  English  bishop  mention  free  negroes  among  the  par 
ishioners,  while  certain  others  show  that  there  were  none. 
The  report  for  St.  Anne's  parish  asserted  that  in  the  parish 
there  "are  many  negro  slaves,"  and  that  "there  maybe  6  free 
negroes."7  The  rector  of  Lawn's  Creek  parish  reported  that 
"  there  are  some  Indians,  bond  and  free,  and  some  negroes, 
bond  and  free."8  The  answer  for  Newport  parish  of  Isle 
of  Wight  County  is,  "Both  bond  and  free,"9  and  for 
Hungar's  parish  on  the  Eastern  Shore,  "  There  are  Infidels, 
bond  and  free."10  The  old  parish  registers,  some  of  which 

6  St.  G.  Tucker,  A  Dissertation  on  Slavery  in  Virginia,  published 
as  Appendix  to  1803  edition  of  Tucker's  Blackstone,  vol.  i,  note  H, 
p.  66.  The  edition  of  the  Dissertation  on  Slavery  published  in  1796 
has  1800  (p.  70)  where  the  later  edition  has  2800  as  representing 
the  author's  estimate  of  the  number  of  free  colored  persons  in  Vir 
ginia.  An  indication  that  the  figures  of  the  later  edition  are  the 
author's  true  estimate  is  contained  in  a  statement  made  by  a  member 
of  the  House  of  Delegates  in  discussing  manumission  in  which  he 
cited  Tucker  as  authority  for  the  statement  that  in  1782  there  were 
3000  free  negroes  in  Virginia.  Evidently  the  speaker  adopted  3000 
as  a  round  number  for  2800  as  given  in  the  edition  of  Tucker,  then 
only  two  years  old. 

7W.  S.  Perry,  ed.,  Papers  relating  to  the  History  of  the  Church 
in  Virginia,  1650-1776,  p.  315. 

8  Ibid.,  p.  289. 

9  Ibid.,  p.  274. 

10  Ibid.,  p.  273.    The  word  "  infidels  "  in  these  reports  is  used  some 
what  in  the  sense  of  "heathen,"  so  that  when  the  answer  is  made 
that  there  are  "no  infidels  that  are  free,"  as  was  made  for   St. 
Peter's  parish   (p.  269),  it  must  be  understood  to  mean  that  there 
were  no  free  negroes  in  the  congregation  of  the  minister  making  the 
report.     One  negative  answer  made  to  the  question  as  to  the  num 
ber  of  bond  or  free  infidels  declared,  "  There  are  none  of  the  latter, 
especially  of  those  who  profess  the  Church  of  England  worship" 
(p.  271).    Negroes,  whether  baptized  or  not,  were  uniformly  re 
ported  as  infidels. 

12  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

date  back  to  1662,  bear  witness  to  the  existence  of  a  free 
negro  element  in  the  congregations,  although  it  is  difficult 
to  ascertain  from  this  source  the  numerical  strength  of  the 
free  negro  population.11  The  register  of  the  old  Bruton 
parish  shows  that  thirty-seven  out  of  eleven  hundred  and 
twenty-two  colored  persons  baptized  between  1746  and  1797 
were  free;12  but  the  ratio  of  37  to  1122,  or  I  to  30,  is  no 
doubt  much  too  large  to  show  the  relative  number  of  free 
negroes  to  the  slaves  in  any  large  section  of  the  State. 
From  about  1762  to  1782  some  seventy  free  colored  persons 
are  mentioned  in  the  records  of  baptisms, — a  number  larger 
than  could  have  been  found  in  most  areas  of  the  same  size 
included  in  a  single  parish.13 

After  1782  the  relative  numbers  of  the  three  classes  of 
Virginia  population  are  pretty  well  known.  A  state  census 
made  in  I782,14  although  not  classifying  free  negroes  sepa 
rately,  bears  out  the  estimate  made  by  Professor  Tucker  that 
twenty-eight  hundred15  would  represent  fairly  accurately 
the  number  of  free  negroes  in  Virginia  at  that  date.  The 
unparalleled  increase  of  this  class,  which  followed  the  re 
moval  in  1782  of  the  restrictions  on  manumission,  and  also 
the  relative  numbers  of  free  colored  persons,  slaves,  and 
whites  in  Virginia  from  1790  to  1860  will  be  seen  from 

"By  the  courtesy  of  the  librarian  of  the  Episcopal  Theological 
Seminary  at  Alexandria,  Virginia,  the  writer  was  permitted  to  ex 
amine  the  manuscript  parish  records,  which  contain  valuable  in 
formation  not  only  as  to  the  number  of  free  negroes,  but  also  as  to 
their  social  position. 

13  Manuscript  copy,  Williamsburg,  Virginia,  pp.  24-57.  See  also 
W.  A.  R.  Goodwin,  Historical  Sketch  of  Bruton  Church,  p.  153. 

13  The  record  for  a  single  year  reads,  with  reference  to  free 
negroes,  as  follows:  "John,  son  of  Thos.  &  Sally  Pow,  a  free  mu 
latto  was  baptized  April  ye  4.  1762."  "  Elizabeth,  Daughter  of 
Eliza  Wallace  (a  free  negro)  baptiz'd  June  ye  6,  1762."  "Joseph, 
Son  of  Anne  Freeman,  a  free  Mulatto,  bapt'z'd  July  ye  4,  1762." 

In  further  illustration  of  the  evidence  contained  in  parish  records 
of  the  existence  of  free  negroes  in  the  colony  is  the  following 
entry:  "Diego,  free  negro  died  Sept.  3,  1741 "  (MS.  Register 
of  Christ's  Church,  Middlesex  County,  p.  310). 

14 "  State  Enumeration  of  Va.,  1782-1785 — Heads  of  Families,"  pub 
lished  with  the  First  Census  of  the  United  States,  1790. 

15  St.  G.  Tucker,  A  Dissertation  on  Slavery,  ed.  1803,  p.  66. 


the  following  table  prepared  from  the  Federal  decennial 
censuses : —  • 























1,  596,  206 

From  these  figures  one  fails  to  get  a  correct  conception 
of  the  significance  of  the  presence  of  the  free  colored  popu 
lation  in  Virginia  unless  the  question  of  distribution  is  also 
taken  into  consideration.  Had  the  free  blacks  been  equally 
distributed  throughout  the  white  population  of  the  State, 
the  effect  would  have  been  different.  In  the  mountainous 
half  of  the  State,  which  after  1830  contained  half  of  the 
white  population,  free  negroes  were  so  scarce  as  to  be  an 
almost  negligible  social  factor.  The  58,042  free  negroes, 
together  with  the  slave  population,  were  confined  largely 
to  the  eastern  half  of  the  State,  where  in  1860  the  white 
population  numbered  about  600,000. 

The  State  of  Virginia  was  divided  north  and  south  on 
the  basis  of  the  elevation  of  land  into  four  sections :  Tide 
water,  Piedmont,  the  Valley,  and  Trans-Alleghany.  Of  the 
12,866  free  negroes  in  Virginia  in  1790  only  75  resided  in 
Trans-Alleghany,  or  what  is  now  West  Virginia  with  sev 
eral  counties  of  the  southwestern  part  of  Virginia.  In  the 
Valley  district  there  were  815;  in  the  Piedmont  region, 
3640,  leaving  8330,  or  about  two  thirds  of  the  entire  number, 
in  Tidewater.  In  that  section  the  first  census  recorded  I 
free  negro  to  18  slaves  and  to  18  white  persons.  In  Trans- 
Alleghany  the  figures  showed  I  free  negro  to  30  slaves  to 
517  white  persons. 

From  the  census  of  1860  it  appeared  that  the  free  negroes 
of  Tidewater  were  between  one  sixth  and  one  seventh  of 
the  colored  and  about  one  fourteenth  of  the  entire  popula 
tion  of  that  section.  Tidewater  contained  32,841  free  ne- 

14  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

groes,  over  one  half  of  the  entire  free  colored  population, 
while  the  region  beyond  the  Alleghanies  now  had  2513, 
which  was  about  one  eleventh  of  the  blacks  of  that  section 
and  i  to  every  160  persons  living  there.  It  appears  that 
Tidewater  always  had  from  one  half  to  two  thirds  of  the 
entire  free  negro  class,  although  after  1830  that  section 
contained  less  than  one  fourth  of  the  white  people  of  the 
State.  In  1860  Trans-Alleghany  had  more  than  one  third 
of  the  white  population  of  Virginia  and  about  one  twenty- 
fifth  of  the  free  negroes.  The  two  sections  west  of  the 
Blue  Ridge,  sometimes  called  the  western  half  of  the  State, 
had  in  1860  over  one  half  of  the  white  and  but  one  seventh 
of  the  entire  free  colored  class.  A  few  of  the  lower  coun 
ties  in  the  Valley  contained  a  large  part  of  the  8354  free 
colored  persons  who  lived  in  the  western  half.  Thus  it  is 
apparent  that  an  important  aspect  of  the  free  negro  problem 
in  Virginia  was  the  fact  that  the  free  negro  population  was 
largely  concentrated  in  the  eastern  half  of  the  State  and 
came  in  contact  with  only  about  one  half  of  the  white 

With  respect  to  the  relative  numbers  of  free  negroes  in 
smaller  localities  some  interesting  observations  may  be  made. 
As  between  rural  and  urban  communities  the  latter  had  the 
larger  share  of  free  negroes.  In  1790,  when  the  average 
ratio  of  free  negroes  to  slaves  and  to  whites  in  the  Tide 
water  section  was  I  to  18,  in  Petersburg  the  free  negroes 
constituted  one  fourth  of  the  colored  population  of  the  town, 
and  were  to  the  whites  as  I  to  4^.  In  this  town  of  3000 
people  there  were  310  free  negroes.  In  Richmond,  out  of 
a  population  of  3700  there  were  265  free  negroes.  In 
Portsmouth,  where  1702  persons  lived,  there  were  47  free 

The  increase  of  free  negroes  in  the  town  populations  is 
best  seen  by  considering  the  figures  of  some  of  the  later  cen 
suses.  Petersburg  in  1830  had  2032  free  negroes,  2850 
slaves,  and  3440  white  persons.  In  1860  this  town  was  the 
home  of  3164  free  negroes,  5680  slaves,  and  a  number  of 


white  persons  about  equal  to  the  total  black  population. 
In  1860  Winchester,  a  town  of  3000  white  inhabitants,  had 
675  free  negroes,  only  nineteen  less  than  half  of  the  blacks 
of  the  town.  In  1850,  10,450  free  negroes  out  of  a  total  of 
54,333,  that  is,  nearly  one  fifth,  lived  in  towns,  while  only 
about  one  tenth  of  the  white  population  lived  in  cities  and 
towns.  In  1860  between  a  fourth  and  a  third  of  the  whole 
free  colored  population  lived  in  towns  and  cities.16 

In  some  counties  a  large  proportion  of  the  black  inhabi 
tants  were  free.  In  Accomac  County  3392  of  the  8000 
black  inhabitants  were  free.  In  James  City  County  926 
out  of  2764  blacks  were  free.  In  Nansemond  County  there 
were  2470  free  negroes  and  581  slaves.  Other  counties  in 
Tidewater  in  which  from  one  sixth  to  one  half  of  the  col 
ored  population  was  free  were  Charles  City,  Fairfax,  Hen- 
rico,  Isle  of  Wight,  James  City,  Norfolk,  Northampton, 
Prince  William,  Richmond,  Southampton,  Warwick,  and 
Westmoreland.  The  counties  in  Piedmont  which  had  the 
largest  free  colored  population  relative  to  the  slave  class 
were  Loudoun  and  Goochland.  In  the  former,  one  sixth  of 
the  negroes  were  free,  in  the  latter,  one  ninth. 

Occasion  may  arise  for  calling  attention  to  other  facts 
relative  to  the  numbers  and  the  distribution  of  the  free  ne 
groes  in  Virginia,  but  the  facts  given  above  will  be  sufficient 
for  a  general  conception  of  the  numerical  importance  of 
that  class  at  different  times  and  in  different  places. 

"Census  of  1860,  Population,  p.  516. 


The  popular  misconception  of  the  beginnings  of  the  free 
negro  population  in  Virginia  which  this  chapter  should  cor 
rect  may  be  stated  as  follows :  The  first  negroes  brought  to 
Virginia  in  1619  were  from  the  very  outset  regarded  and 
held  as  slaves  for  life.  They  and  all  Africans  who  came 
after  them  experienced  immediately  upon  entering  Virginia 
a  perpetual  loss  of  liberty.  Unlike  the  white  servant,  whose 
freedom  was  only  temporarily  withheld,  the  freedom  of  the 
negro  could  only  be  restored  by  an  act  of  emancipation. 
This  being  so,  the  free  negro  class  was  nothing  but  a  diver 
gence  from,  or  a  by-product  of,  slavery,  dependent  in  its 
origin  and  existence  upon  the  disintegration  of  slavery. 
This  erroneous  view  was  expressed  by  a  slavery  apologist  of 
the  decade  immediately  preceding  the  Civil  War  as  follows : 
"  Every  negro  in  this  country,  or  his  ancestors,  came  in  as  a 
slave.  Every  negro,  legally  free,  has  reached  that  condition 
by  his  ancestors  or  himself  having  been  emancipated  by  a 
former  master."1 

This  popular  error  is  maintained  and  supported  by  a  large 
number  of  writers  who  have  discussed  the  introduction  of 
negroes  into  America.  Besides  Virginia  historians  such  as 
Burk,  Campbell,  and  Cook,  who  through  thoughtless  infer 
ence  have  written  the  word  "  slave  "  where  they  should,  in 
view  of  all  the  evidence  before  them,  have  written  "ne 
gro,"  there  are  two  classes  of  writers  who  have  given  cre 
dence  to  the  theory  as  a  means  of  supporting  some  cause 
of  which  they  were  the  champions.  The  first  authorities 
to  make  use  of  this  historical  error  were  the  antebellum 

1 "  Calx,"    Two   Great    Evils    of    Virginia.     Bound    in    "  Political 
Pamphlets/'  vol.  xii,  p.  5,  in  Virginia  State  Library. 



proslavery  advocates.  Judge  Tucker  of  the  Virginia  su 
preme  court,  when  delivering  an  opinion  in  1806  in  support 
of  the  principle  of  presuming  slavery  from  color,  made  the 
following  assertion :  "  From  the  first  settlement  of  the  colony 
of  Virginia  to  the  year  1778,  all  negroes,  Moors,  and  mu- 
lattoes  .  .  .  brought  into  this  country  by  sea,  or  land,  were 
slaves."2  The  school  of  proslavery  writers  in  Virginia  be 
tween  1832  and  1860  made  this  assumption  the  basis  of 
an  argument  for  the  reduction  of  all  free  negroes  to  slavery : 
"  Every  negro  in  this  country  or  his  ancestors  came  in  as  a 
slave."  Hence  they  argued  that  "  the  free  condition  of  all 
negroes  in  this  country  is  novel  or  superinduced,  artificial 
and  abnormal.  The  great  political  problem  which  is  re 
quired  to  be  solved,  is  the  recovery  of  the  free  negroes  from 
their  false  position  in  this  slave-holding  community."3 

The  other  writers  whose  conclusions  have  been  influenced 
by  their  wishes  in  regard  to  the  early  history  of  the  negro  in 
America  are  historians  of  sectional  bias  who  desire  to  assure 
themselves  and  their  readers  that  American  slavery  had  its 
origin  in  Virginia  and  not  at  the  North.  Thus,  Henry  Wil 
son,  in  his  Rise  and  Fall  of  the  Slave  Power  in  America,4 
assures  us  that  "  in  the  month  of  August,  1620,  a  Dutch  ship 
entered  James  River  with  twenty  African  slaves.  They 
were  purchased  by  the  colonists,  and  they  and  their  offspring 
were  held  in  perpetual  servitude."  He  therefore  concludes 
that  "  four  months  before  the  feet  of  the  Pilgrims  had 
touched  the  New  World,  began  that  system  which  over 
spread  the  land." 

Without  attempting  to  say  whether  slavery  had  an  earlier 
beginning  in  Virginia  than  in  the  other  colonies,  and  with 
out  entering  into  the  merits  of  the  contention  of  the  pro- 
slavery  advocates  that  the  free  negroes  should  have  been 
universally  reduced  to  slavery,  it  can  be  asserted  that 
any  contention  based  solely  upon  the  theory  that  the  first 
Afro- Virginians  and  their  offspring  were  slaves  from  the 

1  Hudgins  v.  Wrights,  i  Hening  and  Munford,  137. 
'"Calx,"  p.  5. 
Third  edition,  vol.  i,  p.  2. 


1 8  THE   FREE    NEGRO    IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

time  of  their  arrival  in  the  colony  is  not  well  founded.5 
Regardless  of  the  bearing  upon  past  or  present  controversies 
of  the  conclusions  reached,  an  examination  of  the  records 
will  be  made  with  the  sole  object  of  finding  out  what  was 
the  early  status  of  the  negro  in  Virginia. 

If  the  simple  fact  of  the  introduction  of  negroes  into  the 
colony  of  Virginia  is  not  to  be  taken  as  conclusive  evidence 
of  the  beginning  of  slavery,  upon  what  facts  should  its  origin 
or  earliest  existence  be  posited?  Throughout  the  seven 
teenth  century  there  were  in  the  colony  persons  called  ser 
vants  whose  relations  to  their  masters  during  the  time  of 
their  service  resembled  the  relations  of  slavery.  Such  tem 
porary  servitude  must  be  distinguished  from  slavery.  The 
difference  between  a  servant  and  a  slave  is  elementary  and 
fundamental.  The  loss  of  liberty  to  the  servant  \vas  tem 
porary;  the  bondage  of  the  slave  was  perpetual.  It  is  the 
distinction  made  by  Beverly  in  1705  when  he  wrote,  "  They 
are  call'd  Slaves  in  respect  of  the  time  of  their  Servitude, 
because  it  is  for  Life."6  Wherever,  according  to  the  cus 
toms  and  laws  of  a  colony,  negroes  were  regarded  and  held 
as  servants  without  a  future  right  to  freedom,  there  we 
should  find  the  beginning  of  slavery  in  that  colony.  Dr.  J. 
C.  Ballagh,  in  his  History  of  Slavery  in  Virginia,  very  prop 
erly  treats  slavery  as  a  legal  status ;  but  by  drawing  a  sharp 
line  between  negro  servitude  and  slavery  at  the  date  of  stat 
utory  recognition  of  slavery  he  has  overemphasized  the  im 
portance  of  legislation  in  determining  the  origin  of  the  insti 
tution.7  Slavery  in  Virginia  was  instituted  and  developed 
in  customary  law,  and  was  legally  sanctioned  at  first  by 

8J.  C.  Ballagh,  in  A  History  of  Slavery  in  Virginia,  was  the  first 
to  point  out  the  error  in  the  assumption  that  slavery  was  introduced 
into  Virginia.  His  thesis  in  the  chapter  entitled  "  Development  of 
Slavery "  is  that  "  servitude  .  .  .  was  the  historic  base  upon  which 
slavery,  by  the  extension  and  addition  of  incidents,  was  constructed." 
Although  we  are  not  primarily  concerned  in  this  study  with  the 
origin  of  slavery  in  Virginia,  the  facts  here  presented  in  relation 
to  the  origin  of  the  free  negro  seem  to  bear  out  Dr.  Ballagh's  thesis 
as  above  stated. 

6  The  History  and  Present  State  of  Virginia,  bk.  iv,  p.  35.     Cf. 
Ballagh,  Slavery  in  Virginia,  p.  28. 

7  Pp.  34,  43- 


court  decisions.  Hence,  not  in  statute  law,  but  in  court 
records  and  documents  which  contain  evidence  of  the  con 
dition  of  individual  negroes  prior  to  the  date  of  statutory 
recognition  of  slavery  are  to  be  found,  if  found  at  all,  the 
facts  relative  to  the  beginning  of  slavery. 

The  first  act  of  the  Virginia  slave  code,  that  is  to  say,  the 
first  act  dealing  directly  with  the  status  of  negroes,  was 
passed  in  1662. 8  The  wording  of  the  act  is  abundant  proof 
that  those  who  framed  it  viewed  slavery  as  a  practice  well 
established  and  well  understood,  the  word  "  slave "  being 
used  without  an  attempt  to  define  its  significance.  The  idea 
that  the  act  was  to  establish  slavery  or  to  provide  the  insti 
tution  with  a  legal  basis  seems  to  have  been  entirely  absent ; 
the  sole  object  was  to  fix  a  rule  by  which  the  status  of  mu 
latto  children  could  be  determined.  Prior  to  this  act  the 
word  "  slave  "  had  occurred  in  the  statutes  at  three  different 
times.  In  1655  it  was  enacted  that  "  if  the  Indians  shall 
bring  in  any  children  as  gages  of  their  good  and  quiet  inten 
tions  to  vs  and  amity  with  vs  .  .  .  the  countrey  by  vs  their 
representatives  do  engage  that  wee  will  not  vse  them  as 
slaves."9  This  pledge  to  the  native  Indians  would  seem  to 
justify  the  inference  that  some  persons,  if  not  some  Indians, 
in  the  colony  had  been  reduced  to  slavery.  Again,  in  1659 
in  an  act  concerning  commercial  relations  with  the  Dutch  it 
was  declared  "that  if  the  said  Dutch  or  other  foreigners 
shall  import  any  negro-slaves,  They  .  .  .  shall  for  the  to 
bacco  really  produced  by  the  sale  of  the  said  negro  pay  only 
the  impost  of  two  shilling  per  hogshead,  the  like  being  paid 
by  our  owne  nation."10  While  here  the  subject  of  legisla 
tion  is  not  even  related  to  status  and  the  reference  to  slaves 
is  in  a  conditional  clause  in  the  act,  it  is  hardly  to  be  sup 
posed  that  the  persons  who  drew  the  act  would  have  used 

"  Whereas  some  doubts  have  arisen  whether  children  got  by  an 
Englishman  upon  a  negro  woman  should  be  slave  or  free,  Be  it 
therefore  enacted  .  .  .  that  all  children  borne  in  this  country  shall 
be  held  bond  or  free  only  according  to  the  condition  of  the  mother  " 
(Hening,  vol.  ii,  p.  170). 

9  Hening,  vol.  i,  p.  396. 

10  Ibid.,  vol.  i,  p.  540. 

20  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

the  word  "  slave  "  where  "  servant "  or  "  negro  "  was  meant. 
The  act  came  very  close  to  a  recognition  of  the  legal  possi 
bility  of  slavery  in  the  colony.11 

Two  years  later  the  wording  of  an  act  prescribing  certain 
punishments  for  runaway  English  servants  shows  beyond  a 
doubt  that  some  negroes  in  the  colony  were  slaves.  The 
act  is  entitled  "  English  running  away  with  negroes,"12  and 
reads  as  follows :  "  In  case  any  English  servant  shall  run 
away  in  company  with  any  negroes  who  are  incapable  of 
makeing  satisfaction  by  addition  of  time,  bee  it  enacted 
that  the  English  so  running  away  in  company  with  them 
shall  serve  for  the  time  of  the  said  negroes  absence  as  they 
are  to  do  for  their  own  by  a  former  act."13  The  clause  which 
here  refers  incidentally  to  negroes  certainly  shows  that  some 
of  them  were  servants  for  life,  slaves,  incapable  of  compen 
sating  for  lost  time  by  any  addition  to  their  terms ;  but 
there  is  nothing  in  the  act  which  asserts  that  all  negroes 
were  or  should  henceforth  be  slaves. 

This  is  the  act  which  has  been  interpreted  by  Dr.  Ballagh 
in  his  History  of  Slavery  in  Virginia  as  not  only  a  recogni 
tion  of  slavery,  but  also  as  a  statutory  reduction  to  slavery 
of  all  free  or  servant  negroes.1*  As  thus  interpreted,  the 
law  is  made  to  supply  a  legal  basis  hitherto  lacking  upon 

u  There  is  some  indication  in  the  records  of  the  Dutch  settlement 
in  New  York  that  the  supposition  in  the  act  was  at  times  a  reality. 
Four  years  before  this  act  the  Council  of  the  Colony  of  New 
York  granted  to  Edmund  Scharbuch  "permission  to  sail  in  his 
vessel  with  some  purchased  negroes  from  here  to  Virginia"  (Docu 
ments  Relative  to  the  Colonial  History  of  the  State  of  New  York, 
vol.  xii,  pp.  93,  94). 

12  Hening,  vol.  ii,  p.  26.     Italics  my  own. 

13  In  the  repetition  of  this  act  the  following  year  the  words  "  if 
they   [the  negroes]   had  not  been  slaves"  are  added,  showing  that 
a  negro  who  was  not  a  slave  was  required  to  make  up  his  own  time 
lost  by  running  away  (Hening,  vol.  ii,  p.  117). 

14  At  page  71   are  used  the  words,   "negro   servants   reduced  to 
slavery  in  1661."     The  words  from  which  this  inference  is  drawn 
are  quoted  thus :  "  Negroes  are  incapable  of  making  satisfaction  by 
addition  of  time"   (p.  34).     These  words  as  they  stand  are  indeed 
of  universal  application,  but  it  will  be  noticed  that  two  words  have 
been  omitted  from  the  text  of  the  act  which  when  supplied  give  to 
the  clause  a  restricted  meaning  and  application.    /The  clause  should 
read :  "  Any  negroes  who  are  incapable  of  makeing  satisfaction  by 
addition  of  time." 


which  courts  might  rule  against  the  liberation  of  negroes 
suing  for  freedom.     But,  manifestly,  the  act  was  not  in 
tended  for  such  a  purpose,  and  there  is  abundant  evidence 
that  it  was  not  used  to  alter  the  status  of  free  or  servant 
negroes  then  in  the  colony.     The  truth  is  that  no  attempt  • 
was  ever  made  to  supply  legal  grounds  for  holding  negroes 
in  a  status  of  slavery.     Custom  supplied  all  the  authority 
that  appeared  to  be  necessary,  and  legislation  at  first  merely      V 
performed  the  part  of  resolving  some  uncertainties  concern 
ing  a  well-established  institution.     "When  the  progress  of  ' 
the  times,"  wrote  Savigny,  "  calls  for  new  institutions  .  .  . 
there  is  necessarily  a  time  of  transition  in  which  the  law  is 
uncertain,  and  it  is  to  put  an  end  to  this  uncertainty  that 
Statute  Law  is  required."15 

This  truth  is  well  illustrated  in  the  growth  of  slavery  in 
Virginia.  The  time  of  transition  from  slavery  sanctioned 
by  customary  law  to  slavery  defined  by  statute  law  was  the 
decade  between  1660  and  1670.  A  few  quotations  from 
the  preambles  of  the  acts  of  this  period  will  reveal  the  object 
of  the  first  legislation  concerning  the  Africans  in  Virginia. 
In  1662  we  read  that  "  whereas  some  doubts  have  arisen 
whether  children  got  by  an  Englishman  upon  a  negro  woman 
should  be  slave  or  free,  be  it  therefore  enacted,"16  and  so 
forth.  "  Some  doubts  have  [ing]  arisen  whether  negroes 
that  are  slaves  by  birth  should  by  vertue  of  baptism  be  made 
free,"  the  answer  was  made  in  1667  by  the  enactment  of  a 
statute.17  An  act  of  1668  begins  with  the  words,  "/Whereas  , 
doubts  have  arisen  whether  negro  women  set  free  should 
be  accompted  tithable,"18  and  another  two  years  later  was 
explained  by  a  preamble  which  asserted  that  "it  has  been 
questioned  whither  Indians  or  negroes  manumitted  or  other 
wise  free  could  be  capable  of  purchasing  Christian  ser 
vants."19  Doubts  arose  as  to  whether  Indians  captured  in 

15  Savigny,  System,  Sec.  13,  quoted  in  J.  M.  Lightfoot's  Nature  of 
Positive  Law,  pp.  283,  284. 
^   18  Hening,  vol.  ii,  p.  i/o. 

"  Ibid.,  vol.  ii,  p.  260. 

18  Ibid.,  vol.  ii,  p.  267. 

19  Ibid.,  vol.  ii,  p.  280. 

22  THE   FREE    NEGRO    IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

war  should  be  slaves,  and  in  1670  was  passed  an  act  enti 
tled  "  An  act  declaring  who  shall  be  slaves."20 

Even  after  this  decade  of  legislation  the  question  as  to 
who  should  or  should  not  be  slaves  was  not  fully  answered. 
The  act  of  1670  merely  applied  to  servants  brought  in  by 
ship  after  1670  the  test  of  Christianity  to  determine  whether 
they  should  be  servants  for  a  limited  time  or  slaves  for  life. 
The  status  of  Africans  who  came  or  were  brought  to  Vir 
ginia  before  1670  was  not  determined  by  statute  law  either 
before  or  after  that  date.  Hence,  if  by  statute  law  slavery 
was  merely  regulated  and  not  established  or  instituted,  the 
only  use  that  can  be  made  of  the  statutes  in  determining  the 
origin  of  the  institution  is  to  fix  an  upper  limit  to  the  period 
in  which  the  beginning  was  made.  Knowing  that  slavery 
had  its  beginning  some  time  before  1661,  the  date  of  the  first 
act  recognizing  it,  a  study  of  the  period  from  1619  to  1661 
should  throw  much  light  on  the  question  of  the  earliest 
beginnings  of  the  free  negro  class. 

From  the  quaint  narrative  of  Master  John  Rolfe,  who 
possibly  wrote  as  an  eyewitness  of  the  introduction  of  ne 
groes  into  Virginia,  it  is  learned  that  "  About  the  last  of 
August  [1619]  came  in  a  Dutch  man  of  Warre  that  sold 
us  twenty  negars."21  In  the  very  year  of  the  arrival  of  this 
group  of  African  immigrants  a  system  of  labor  known  as 
indented  servitude  received  recognition  in  the  laws  of  the 
colony.22  It  was  not  an  uncommon  practice  in  this  early 
period  for  ship  masters  to  sell  white  servants  to  the  plant 
ers;23  hence,  an  inference  that  these  twenty  negroes  were 
slaves,  drawn  from  the  fact  that  they  were  sold  to  the  colony 
or  to  the  planters,  would  not  be  justified.  Prior  to  1619 
every  inhabitant  of  the  colony  was  practically  "a  servant 
manipulated  in  the  interest  of  the  company,  held  in  servi- 

20  Herring,  vol.  ii,  p.  283. 

21  Works  of  Captain  John  Smith,  ed.  by  Arber,  p.  541. 

22  The  first  assembly  of  the  colony  provided  that  all  contracts  of 
servants  should  be  recorded  and  enforced,  and  thus  gave  legislative 
recognition  to  servitude   (Colonial  Records  of  Virginia,  1619-1680, 
State  Senate  Document,  Extra,  1874,  pp.  21,  28;  J.  C.  Ballagh,  White 
Servitude  in  the  Colony  of  Virginia,  p.  27  n.). 

23  Ballagh,  White  Servitude,  p.  45- 


tude  beyond  a  stipulated  term/'24  The  word  "  freeman " 
was  just  beginning  to  be  used  to  distinguish  persons  set  free 
from  service  to  the  London  Company  from  persons  still  in 
a  condition  of  servitude  either  to  the  company  or  to  indi 
vidual  freemen.25  Beyond  all  question  the  first  twenty  ne 
groes  brought  in  were  not  introduced  as  freemen.  The 
only  question  is  whether,  upon  entering  the  colony,  they  be 
came  servants  or  slaves.  The  possibility  of  their  becoming 
slaves  must  be  recognized  because  it  is  conceivable  that  a 
status  different  from  that  of  any  person  in  Virginia  at  that 
time  was  given  to  persons  so  different  from  white  settlers 
as  were  the  Africans. 

Since  it  is  the  fact  that  the  white  population  in  the  colony 
in  1619  had  not  been  familiar  in  England  with  a  system 
of  slavery  or  with  a  model  slave  code,  and  since  they  had 
developed  in  Virginia  a  system  of  servitude  and  were  forti 
fying  it  by  law,  it  is  plausible  that  the  Africans  became  ser 
vants  in  a  condition  similar  to  the  status  of  white  servants, 
who,  after  a  term  of  service  varying  from  two  to  eight 
years,26  were  entitled  to  freedom.  According  to  the  "  Lists 
of  living  and  dead  in  Virginia"27  in  1623  and  the  "Muster 
Rolls  of  the  Settlements  in  Virginia/'28  a  census  made  in 
1624-1625,  there  were  in  the  colony  twenty-three  Africans. 
They  are  all  listed  as  "  servants,"  thus  receiving  the  same 
class  name  as  many  white  persons  enumerated  in  the  lists.29 
Some  had  names,  as,  for  instance,  "Angelo,  a  negro  wo 
man,"  and  "  John  Pedro,  a  neger  aged  30."  Others  appar 
ently  had  no  names,  and  were  designated  simply  by  the  word 
"  negro  "  under  the  caption  "  servants."  In  the  opinion  of 

"Ballagh,  White  Servitude,  p.  14. 

25  Hening,  vol.  i,  pp.  126,  128. 

26  Ballagh,  White  Servitude,  p.  49.     Two  hundred  and  fifty  serv 
ants  were  brought  into  Virginia  in  1619  (ibid.,  pp.  18,  30). 

27  Colonial  Records  of  Virginia,  p.  37  et  seq. 

28  J.  C.  Hotten,  Lists  of  Emigrants  to  America,  passim. 

28  They  were  distributed  as  follows :  Abraham  Piersey,  7 ;  George 
Yeardley,  Kt,  8;  Capt  William  Piercey,  i;  Richard  Kingsmall,  i; 
Edward  Bennett,  2;  Capt.  William  Tucker,  3;  Capt.  Francis  West, 
i.  All  these  persons  held  other  servants  beside  the  negroes,  and 
some  of  these  masters,  being  officers  in  the  colony,  may  have  had 
merely  the  right  of  an  officer  over  company  servants  (Hotten,  pp. 

24  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

Thomas  Jefferson,  "the  right  to  these  negroes  was  com 
mon,  or,  perhaps,  they  lived  on  a  footing  with  the  whites, 
who,  as  well  as  themselves,  were  under  the  absolute  direc 
tion  of  the  president."30 

Were  any  or  all  of  these  negroes  permitted  to  realize  the 
freedom  to  which  servants  were  entitled  under  the  laws  and 
customs  of  servitude?  In  the  records  of  the  county  courts 
dating  from  1632  to  1661  negroes  are  designated  as  "ser 
vants,"  "  negro  servants,"  or  simply  as  "  negroes,"  but  never 
in  the  records  which  we  have  examined  were  they  termed 
"  slaves."31  By  an  order  of  the  general  court  a  negro 
brought  from  the  West  Indies  to  Virginia  in  1625  was  de 
clared  to  "belong  to  Sir  Francis  Wyatt  (then  governor) 
as  his  servant."32  There  is  nothing  in  the  record  which  in 
dicates  that  "  servant "  meant  the  same  as  "  slave."  Among 
the  twenty-three  African  "  servants "  enumerated  in  1624 
was  a  negro  man  named  Anthony33  and  a  negro  woman 
named  Mary,34  serving  under  different  masters.  In  the 
county  court  records  of  Northampton,  of  date  February  28, 
1652,  is  the  following  order: — 

Upon  ye  humble  petition]  of  Anth.  Johnson  Negro;  &  Mary  his 
wife;  &  their  Information  to  ye  Court  that  they  have  been  Inhab 
itants  in  Virginia  above  thirty  years  consideration  being  taken  of 
their  hard  labor  &  honoured  service  performed  by  the  petitioners 
in  this  County,  for  ye  obtayneing  of  their  Livelyhood  And  ye  great 
Llosse  they  have  sustained  by  an  unfortunate  fire  wth  their  present 
charge  to  provide  for,  Be  it  therefore  fitt  and  ordered  that  from  the 
day  of  the  date  hearof  (during  their  natural  lives)  the  sd  Mary 
Johnson  &  two  daughters  of  Anthony  Johnson  Negro  be  disingaged 
and  freed  from  payment  of  Taxes  and  leavyes  in  Northampton 
County  for  public  use.35 

30  Jefferson's  Reports,  iign. 

81  Examples  or  illustrations  may  be  seen  in  MS.  Court  Records  of 
Accomac  County,  1632-1640,  pp.  55,  152  et  seq. ;  Lower  Norfolk 
County,  1637-1646,  1646-1651. 

32  The  case  is  one  which  Jefferson  noted  from  the  records  of  the 
general  court    (Jefferson's   Reports,    ugn.)- 

33  Hotten,   p.  244.     In   the   second   edition   the  entry   referring  to 
Anthony  is  as  follows :  "  Anthony,  negro,  Isabell,  a  negro,  and  Wil 
liam  her  child,  baptised."     In  an   earlier  edition    (1874)    the  entry 
appeared   as   follows :   "  Antony   Negro :   Isabell   Negro ;   and   Wil 
liam  theire  Child  Baptised." 

34 "  Mary,  a  negro  Woman  [came  in]  in  the  Margarett  and  John, 
1622"  (Hotten,  p.  241). 
35  MS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1651-1654,  p.  161. 


Subtracting  thirty  or  more  years  from  1652,  the  date  of 
this  court  order,  we  find  that  Anthony  Johnson  and  possibly 
the  woman  who  became  his  wife  were  inhabitants  of  Vir 
ginia  before  1622. 36  If  additional  evidence  is  required  to 
establish  the  fact  that  Anthony  Johnson  and  his  family  were 
free  in  1652,  it  is  contained  in  a  land  patent  of  1651  assign 
ing  to  him  in  fee  simple  two  hundred  and  fifty  acres  of 
land,37  or  in  the  records  of  a  suit  which  he  maintained  in 
the  county  court  in  i655.38 

Just  what  part  of  the  period  of  over  thirty  years  of  An 
thony  Johnson's  residence  in  the  colony  was  a  term  of  servi 
tude  or  how  long  before  1652  he  had  enjoyed  his  freedom 
is  not  clear.  The  term  of  service  for  white  servants  was 
not  uniform,  being  dependent  upon  the  conditions  of  the 
contract.  Before  1643,  servants  without  contracts  gener 
ally  became  freemen  after  terms  of  service  varying  from 
two  to  eight  years.  After  1643  tne  terms  of  service  for 
servants  "brought  into  the  colony  without  indentures  or 
covenants  to  testify  their  agreements  "  were  fixed  by  law 
at  four  to  seven  years,  the  period  varying  somewhat  with 
the  youthfulness  of  the  servant.39  The  variations  in  the 
terms  of  service  for  negro  servants  appear  to  have  been 
greater  than  the  variations  for  white  servants.  In  1651 
"  head  rights "  were  allowed  upon  the  importation  of  a 
negro  by  the  name  of  Richard  Johnson.40  Only  three  years 
later  a  patent  calling  for  one  hundred  acres  of  land  was 
issued  to  this  negro  for  importing  two  other  persons.41 
Hence,  it  appears  that  Richard  Johnson  came  in  as  a  free 

36  It  is  evident  from  the  census  of  1624  that  the  negress  Mary, 
there  enumerated,  was  not  then  the  wife  of  Anthony;  but  granting 
that  Anthony  and  Mary  Johnson  were  in  Virginia  thirty  years  be 
fore  1652,  it  is  not  an  unreasonable  inference  that  the  only  negro 
man  named  Anthony  and  the  only  negro  woman  named  Mary  in  the 
colony  thirty  years  before  1652  were  the  negroes  afterward  called 
Anthony  and  Mary  Johnson. 

ST  MS.  Land  Patents  of  Virginia,  1643-1651,  p.  326. 

88  MS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1651-1654,  P-  226; 
1655-1658,  p.  10 ;  below,  p.  32. 

39  Hening,  vol.  i,  pp.  257,  441. 

40  MS.  Land  Patents  of  Virginia,  1643-1651,  p.  326. 

41  Ibid.,  1652-1655,  p.  294. 

26  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

negro  or  remained  in  a  condition  of  servitude  for  not  more 
than  three  years.  A  negro  who  came  to  Virginia  about 
1665  was  bound  to  serve  Mr.  George  Light  for  a  period  of 
only  five  years.42  It  appears  from  certain  indentures  to  be 
found  on  record  that  the  term  of  service  to  which  a  negro 
might  be  bound  could  be  for  almost  any  number  of  years. 
In  the  following  agreement,  for  example,  the  term  was  for 
ten  years :  "  Be  it  thought  fitt  &  assented  unto  by  Mr.  Steph. 
Charlton  in  Court  that  Jno.  G.  Hamander  Negro,  his  ser 
vant,  shall  from  ye  date  hereof  [1648]  serve  ye  sd  Mr. 
Charlton  (his  heyers  or  assns.)  until  ye  last  days  of  No 
vember  wh  shall  be  in  ye  year  of  our  Lord  .  .  .  one  thou 
sand  six  hundred  Fifty  &  eight  and  then  ye  sd  Negro  is  to 
bee  a  free  man."43 

As  another  example  of  the  contracts  of  indented  negro 
servants  the  following  extract  from  the  Northampton  County 
court  records  of  1645  is  quoted: — 

This  Indenture  witnesseth  yt  I  Capt.  Francis  Pott  have  taken  to 
service  two  Daughters  of  my  negro  Emanuell  Dregis  to  serve  &  bee 
to  me  my  heyers  Exors.  Adms.  or  Assigns.  The  one  whose  name 
is  Elizabeth  is  to  serve  thirteene  years  whch  will  be  compleat  & 
ended  in  ye  first  part  of  March  in  ye  yeare  of  our  Lord  God  one 
thousand  six  hundred  Fifty  &  eight.  .  .  .  And  ye  other  child  whose 
name  is  Jane  Dregis  (being  about  one  yeare  old)  is  to  serve  ye 
said  Capt.  Pott  as  aforesaid  untill  she  arrive  to  ye  age  of  thirty 
years  old  wh  will  be  compleate  &  ended  .  .  .  [May,  1674],  And  I  ye 
said  Francis  Pott  doe  promise  to  give  them  sufficient  meate,  drinke, 
Apparel  &  Lodging  and  to  use  my  best  endeavor  to  bring  them  up 
in  ye  feare  of  God  and  in  ye  knowledge  of  our  Saviour  Christ  Jesus. 
And  I  doe  further  testify  yt  the  Eldest  daughter  was  given  to  my 
negro  by  one  who  brought  her  upp  by  ye  space  of  eight  years  and 
ye  younger  he  bought  and  paid  for  to  Capt.  Robert  Shephard  (as 
maye  bee  made  appear).  In  witness  whereof  have  hereunto  sett 
my  hands  &  scale  in  ye  27th  of  May  one  thousand  six  hundred  forty 
&  five. 


Witness  the  names  of  Thorn.  P.  Powell  &  John  Pott.*4 

It  appears  from  this  record  that  one  of  the  negro  chil 
dren  was  bound  to  serve  for  a  period  of  thirteen  years  and 
the  other  for  a  term  of  twenty-nine  years.  The  latter 

42  General  Court  Records,  Robinson  Transcripts,  p.  161. 

43  MS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1645-1651,  P-  150. 

44  Ibid.,  p.  82. 


served,  however,  only  seven  years  of  her  term ;  for  in  1652 
her  father  purchased  her  release  from  the  contract,  and 
upon  payment  was  given  the  following  receipt:  "24,  May 
1652.  This  day  Capt.  Pott  acknowledged  yt  hee  hath  reed 
of  Emanuell  Driggs  Negro  satisfaction  &  full  payment  for 
&  in  consideration  of  the  present  freedome  of  Jane  Driggs 
daughter  of  ye  sd  Emanuell  Driggs,  the  sd  girle  beinge  aged 
about  eight  years."45 

It  is  quite  clear  that  the  children  of  Emanuel  Dregis  or 
Driggs  became  indented  servants  and  not  slaves  for  life, 
but  a  question  arises  as  to  their  status  before  this  contract 
was  made.  Emanuel  Dregis  may  not  have  been  regularly 
married  to  the  mother  of  these  two  daughters  of  his,  and 
the  owner  of  their  mother  seems  to  have  claimed  some  right 
to  dispose  of  them  by  gift  and  sale  to  their  father.  But 
the  status  of  Emanuel  Dregis  and  his  wife  Frances  is  fairly 
well  explained  in  other  records.  In  1649  Dregis  and  his 
wife  Frances  and  one  other  negro  called  Bashasor  were 
assigned  by  Roger  Booker  to  Stephen  Charlton.46  Two 
years  later  the  following  record  was  made  concerning  the 
property  rights  of  these  negroes  : — 

Whereas  Emanuel  Driggs  and  Bashasar  Farnando  negroes  now 
servants  unto  Capt.  Franc  Pott  have  certain  cattle,  Hoggs  &  poultry 
now  in  their  possession  ye  wch  they  have  honestly  gotten  and  pur 
chased  in  their  service  formerly  under  ye  sd  Capt.  Pott  &  since 
augmented  and  increased  under  the  service  of  Capt.  Steph.  Charlton 
now  we,  sd  Pott  &  Charlton,  doe  hereby  declare  yt  ye  said  cattle, 
hoggs,  &  poultry  (with  their  increase)  are  ye  proper  goods  of  the 
above  sd  Negroes;  and  yt  they  may  freely  dispose  of  them  either 
in  their  life  tyme  or  att  their  death.  In  witness  our  hands  3Oth 
December  1652. 


The  fact  that  these  negroes  had  an  absolute  right  to  this 
property,  a  right  which  was  not  destroyed  by  the  death  of 
the  property  owner,  is  convincing  that  their  status  was  higher 
than  the  status  of  the  slave,  whose  loss  of  liberty  was  abso 
lute.  Bills  of  sale  recording  the  transfer  of  property  to 

45  MS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1651-1654,  p.  82. 

46  Ibid.,  p.  28. 

47  Ibid.,  p.  114. 

28  THE    FREE    NEGRO    IN    VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

these  negroes  were  recorded  by  the  county  court,  which 
shows  that  the  negroes  were  regarded  as  capable  of  making 
and  enforcing  a  contract.48  It  may  be  of  some  significance 
in  this  connection  to  note  that  later  in  that  century  there 
was  a  Dregis  or  Driggus  family  of  free  negroes  living  in 
Northampton  County.49 

An  instance  very  similar  to  the  case  of  Emanuel  Dregis 
is  found  in  the  records  of  the  general  court  of  Virginia  for 
1640-1641.  The  example  is  of  special  importance  because 
there  is  very  little  specific  information  of  earlier  date  con 
cerning  the  condition  of  negroes.  An  order  of  the  court 
runs  as  follows :  "  It  appeareth  to  the  court  that  John  Gea- 
ween  being  a  negro  servant  unto  William  Evans  was  per 
mitted  by  his  said  master  to  keep  hogs  and  make  the  best 
benefit  thereof  to  himself  provided  the  said  Evans  might 
have  half  the  increase  which  was  accordingly  returned  unto 
him  by  the  said  negro  and  the  other  half  reserved  for  his 
own  benefit."50  Geaween,  like  Dregis,  accumulated  prop 
erty,  and  purchased  from  Lieutenant  Robert  Sheppard  his 
child's  freedom ;  by  order  of  the  court  the  child  was  de 
clared  to  "  be  free  from  the  said  Evans,"  its  father's  master, 
and  "to  be  and  remain  at  the  disposing  and  education  of  the 
said  Geaween  and  the  child's  god-father,"  Robert  Sheppard. 

The  status  of  negroes  like  John  Geaween,  Emanuel 
Dregis,  and  Farnando  fits  precisely  the  description  of  servi 
tude  written  in  1656  by  John  Hammond.  :<  There  is  no 
master  almost,"  says  Hammond,  "but  will  allow  his  Ser 
vant  a  parcell  of  clear  ground  to  plant  some  Tobacco  in 
for  himself  .  .  .  which  in  time  of  shipping  he  may  lay  out 
for  commodities,  and  in  Summer  sell  them  again  with  ad 
vantage,  and  get  a  Sow-Pig  or  two,  which  anybody  almost 

48  Bill  of  sale  by  Francis  Pott  to  Emanuel  Dregis  of  "  a  black 
cow  and  a  red  calf"  (MS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County, 
1645-1651,  p.  83).     In   1647  Tony  Kongo,  a  negro,  was  compelled 
in  court  to  make  good  a  debt,  due  Lewis  White,  amounting  to  three 
hundred  and  eighty-two  pounds  of  tobacco.     By  the  order  of  the 
court,  he  was  allowed  thirty  days  to  guarantee  payment  out  of  "ye 
next  croppe "  (ibid.,  p.  131). 

49  MS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1689-1698,  p.  463. 

60  General  Court  Records,  p.  30.  Published  in  Virginia  Magazine 
of  History,  vol.  xi,  p.  281. 


will  give  him  and  his  Master  suffer  him  to  keep  them  with 
his  own  .  .  .  and  with  one  year's  increase  of  them  may 
purchase  a  Cow-Calf  or  two  and  by  that  time  he  is  for 

Upon  the  completion  of  a  term  of  servitude  negro  ser 
vants  were  sometimes  granted  a  written  discharge,  as  was 
Francis  Pryne  in  1656.  The  court  record  of  the  discharge 
of  this  man  reads  as  follows : — 

I  Mrs.  Jane  Elkonhead  .  .  .  have  hereunto  sett  my  hand  yt  ye 
aforesd  Pryne  [a  negro]  shall  bee  discharged  from  all  hinder- 
ances  of  servitude  (his  child)  or  any  [thing]  yt  doth  belong  to  ye 
sd  Pryne  his  estate. 


The  priority  of  the  origin  of  the  free  negro  class  over  the 
origin  of  the  slave  class  and  the  continuity  of  the  free  negro 
class  will  appear  as  plainly  when  historical  evidence  of  the 
beginning  of  slavery  is  sought  as  when  examples  of  negro 
servitude  are  looked  for.  When  the  court  records  are  ex 
amined  with  a  view  to  finding  the  earliest  beginnings  of 
slavery,  it  appears  that  between  1640  and  1660  slavery  was 
fast  becoming  an  established  fact.  In  this  twenty  years  the 
colored  population  was  divided,  part  being  servants  and  part 
being  slaves,  and  some  who  were  servants  defended  them 
selves  with  increasing  difficulty  from  the  encroachments  of 

In  1640  the  general  court53  rendered  in  a  singular  case  a 
judgment  which  is  very  instructive  as  to  the  earliest  devel 
opment  of  slavery.  "  Three  servants  "  of  Hugh  Gwyn,  to 
wit,  a  Dutchman  called  Victor,  a  Scotchman  named  James 
Gregory,  and  John  Punch,  a  negro,  having  run  away  from 
their  master,  were  overtaken  in  Maryland  and  brought  back 
to  Virginia  to  stand  trial  for  their  misbehavior.  The  ver 
dict  of  the  court  was  "  that  the  said  three  servants  shall 

51  P.  Force,  Tracts  and  Other  Papers,  no.  14,  p.  14.    Cited  as  Force 

52  MS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1654-1655,  p.  100. 

"  The  General  Court  so  called  because  it  trys  the  Causes  of 
the  whole  Country,  is  held  twice  a  Year  by  the  Governors  and 
Council  as  Judges  at  Jamestown;  viz:  in  the  Month  of  April  and 
October"  (Hartwell,  Blair,  and  Chilton,  The  Present  State  of  Vir 
ginia,  and  the  College,  p.  44). 

3O  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

receive  the  punishment  of  whipping  and  to  have  thirty 
stripes  apiece."  Thus  far  there  was  no  discrimination  in 
penalty,  but  the  court  went  on  to  order  that  the  Dutchman 
and  the  Scotchman  should  "  first  serve  out  their  times  with 
their  master  according  to  their  Indentures  and  one  whole 
year  apiece  after  the  time  of  their  service  is  expired  ...  in 
recompence  of  his  loss  sustained  by  their  absence,"  and  that 
then  they  should  serve  the  colony  for  three  years.  But 
"the  third,  being  a  negro  .  .  .  shall  serve  his  said  master 
or  his  assigns  for  the  time  of  his  natural  life."54  While 
there  is  no  mention  of  an  indenture  or  contract  in  the  case 
of  the  negro,  it  must  be  remembered  that  not  all  white  ser 
vants  had  formal  contracts.  If  John  Punch  was  not  merely 
a  servant  with  a  future  right  to  freedom,  his  punishment 
was  much  less  severe  than  that  of  his  white  accomplices. 
If  he  was  such  a  servant,  his  penalty  was  greater  than  the 
penalties  inflicted  upon  the  white  men.  The  most  reason 
able  explanation  seems  to  be  that  the  Dutchman  and  the 
Scotchman,  being  white,  were  given  only  four  additional 
years  to  their  terms  of  indenture,  while  "  the  third,  being 
a  negro,"  was  reduced  from  his  former  condition  of  servi 
tude  for  a  limited  time  to  a  condition  of  slavery  for  life.55 

54  General  Court  Records,  pp.  9,  10.     Printed  in  Virginia  Magazine 
of  History,  vol.  v,  p.  236. 

55  A  case  which  came  up  for  trial  before  the  general  court  at  the 
July  session  of  1640,  three  months  later  than  the  case  above  cited,  in 
dicates  that  some  negroes  were  being  held  as  slaves  as  early  as  1640. 
The  record  reads :  "  Six  servants  and  a  negro  of  Mr.  Reginald's  has 
plotted  to  run  away  unto  the  Dutch  plantation."     In  addition   to 
the  fact  that  the  negro  is  not  here  called  a  servant,  the  nature  of  the 
penalties  inflicted  indicates  that  the  negro  was  a  slave.     The  "  prime 
agent "  in  the  plot  was  a  white  man  named  Miller.     His  punishment 
was  to  be  thirty  stripes,  burning  of  the  letter  R  on  the  cheek,  the 
wearing  of  shackles  on  his  leg  for  one  year,  and  seven  years'  service 
to   the   colony  when   his   term   to   his   master  should   expire.     The 
punishments  ordered  for  the  other  five  white  men  were  less  severe, 
but  none  of  them  escaped  with  less  than  two  years'  additional  ser 
vice.     When  the  court  came  finally  to  the  negro,  he  was  given  a 
penalty  exactly  equal  to  that  of  the  prime  agent,  except  the  addition 
to  his  time  of  service.     These  facts  indicate  that  the  negro  was  a 
slave  "  incapable  of  making  satisfaction  by  addition  of  time,"  and 
that  such  discriminations  as  were  made  because  of  his  race  or  color 
were  made  by  inflicting  upon  him  a  severer  corporal  punishment  than 
his    white    fellow-conspirators    received    (General    Court    Records, 
p.  ii.     Printed  in  Virginia  Magazine  of  History,  vol.  v,  p.  236). 


Some  time  before  1644  Thomas  Bushrod,  assignee  of  Col 
onel  William  Smith,  sold  a  mulatto  boy  named  Manuel  "  as 
a  slave  for-Ever,  but  in  September,  1644,  the  said  servant 
was  by  the  Assembly  adjudged  no  Slave  and  but  to  serve 
as  other  Christian  servants  do  and  was  freed  in  September, 
i66"5."56  By  "  Christian  servants  "  here  is  meant  covenant 
or  indented  servants.  This  case  makes  possible  the  state 
ment  that  although  some  negroes  were  being  treated  as 
slaves,  others  retained  their  right  to  freedom  and  were  not 
reduced  to  a  state  of  slavery,  not  even  by  the  statutes  of 
1661  and  1662  recognizing  slavery.  Another  case  in  point 
is  that  of  a  negro  set  free  in  1665  by  order  of  the  general 
court,  "  after  serving  seven  years."57  A  similar  ruling  of 
this  court  in  the  same  year  was  transcribed  by  Robinson 
simply  as  "a  judgment  of  a  negro  for  his  freedom."58 

Even  these  cases  decided  in  court  favorably  to  individual 
servants  are  no  better  evidence  of  the  continuity  of  the  free 
negro  class  than  they  are  of  the  encroachments  which  slavery 
was  making  upon  the  freedom  rights  of  negro  servants.  It 
was  estimated  in  1649  tnat  there  were  in  Virginia  at  that 
time  three  hundred  Africans.59  A  majority  of  this  number 
had  been  imported  in  the  decade  immediately  preceding  this 
date,  and  it  appears  certain  that  the  greater  part  of  the 
negroes  brought  in  after  1640  were  not  permitted  to  realize 
freedom.  Most  of  them  had  no  indentures  or  contracts, 
and  the  difficulty  with  which  such  as  had  no  contracts  could 
have  defended  any  rights  that  they  possessed  under  the  laws 
and  customs  may  be  inferred  from  the  success  with  which 
some  who  had  indentures  were  reduced  to  perpetual  servi 

69  Journal  of  House  of  Burgesses,  October,  1666,  in  Randolph  MS. 
in  Virginia  Historical  Society,  and  printed  in  Virginia  Magazine  of 
History,  vol.  xvii,  p.  232. 

67  General  Court  Records.  Printed  in  Virginia  Magazine  of  His 
tory,  vol.  viii,  p.  237. 

58  General  Court  Records.  Printed  in  Virginia  Magazine  of  His 
tory,  vol.  viii,  p.  243. 

59 "  There  are  in  Virginia  about  fifteen  thousand  English,  and  of 
negroes  brought  thither,  three  hundred  good  servants  "  (A  Perfect 
Description  of  Virginia,  printed  for  Richard  Wodenoth,  1649.  Re 
printed  in  Virginia  Historical  Register,  vol.  ii,  no.  ii,  p.  62). 

32  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

A  very  instructive  and  interesting  case  in  point  is  that  of 
John  Casor,60  a  negro  of  Northampton  County,  who  came 
to  Virginia  about  1640.  Strange  to  relate,  John  Casor's 
master  was  the  negro  Anthony  Johnson,  who,  as  we  have 
seen,  came  in  before  1622,  and  who  owned  a  large  tract  of 
land  on  the  Eastern  Shore.  According  to  the  records  made 
of  the  case,  John  Casor  set  up  the  claim  in  1653  "Yt  hee 
came  unto  Virginia  for  seaven  or  eight  years  of  Indenture, 
yt  hee  had  demanded  his  freedom  of  Anth.  Johnson  his 
Mayster;  &  further  sd  yt  hee  had  kept  him  his  serv[an]t 
seaven  years  longer  than  hee  should  or  ought."  Casor  ap 
pealed  to  Captain  Samuel  Goldsmith  to  see  that  he  was 
accorded  his  rights.  Goldsmith  demanded  of  Johnson  the 
servant  negro's  indenture,  and  was  told  by  Johnson  that  the 
latter  had  never  seen  any  indenture,  and  "  yt  hee  had  ye 
Negro  for  his  life."  Casor  stood  firmly  by  his  assertion 
that  when  he  came  in  he  had  an  indenture,  and  Messrs. 
Robert  and  George  Parker  confirmed  his  declaration,  say 
ing  that  "they  knewe  that  ye  sd  Negro  had  an  Indenture 
in  one  Mr.  [Sandys]  hand,  on  ye  other  side  of  ye  Baye  & 
...  if  the  sd  Anth.  Johnson  did  not  let  ye  negro  go  free 
the  said  negro  Jno.  Casor  would  recover  most  of  his  Cows 
from  him  ye  sd  Johnson  "  in  compensation  for  service  ren 
dered  which  was  not  due.  Whereupon  Anthony  Johnson 
"  was  in  a  great  f eare,"  and  his  "  sonne  in  Law,  his  wife,  & 
his  own  two  sonnes  persuaded  the  old  negro  Anth.  Johnson 
to  set  the  sd  Jno.  Casor  free." 

The  case  would  be  interesting  enough  and  very  instructive 
if  it  had  ended  here,  but  the  sequel  is  more  interesting  still. 
Upon  more  mature  deliberation  Anthony  Johnson  deter 
mined  to  make  complaint  in  court61  "against  Mr.  Robert 
Parker  that  hee  detayneth  one  Jno.  Casor  a  negro  the  plain 
tiff's  Serv[an]t  under  pretense  yt  the  sd  Jno.  Casor  is  a  free- 

60  MS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1651-1654,  p.  226; 
1655-1658,  p.  10.     The  spelling  of  the  servant  negro's  name  is  not 
quite  clear.    As  it  appears  in  some  places  in  the  records  it  looks 
as  if  it  might  be  Fasor. 

61  MS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1651-1654,  p.  226; 
1655-1658,  p.  10. 


man."  His  complaint  was  received,  and  the  court,  "  se 
riously  considering  &  weighing  ye  premises,"  rendered  the 
following  verdict,  than  which  there  are  none  stranger  on 
record:  "The  court  .  .  .  doe  fynd  that  ye  sd  Mr.  Robert 
Parker  most  unrightly  keepeth  ye  sd  Negro  John  Casor 
from  his  r[igh]t  Mayster  Anthony  Johnson  &  ...  Be  it 
therefore  ye  Judgment  of  ye  court  &  ordered  that  ye  sd  Jno. 
Casor  negro  shall  forthwith  return  into  ye  service  of  his 
sd  Mayster  Anthony  Johnson  and  that  the  sd  Mr.  Robert 
Parker  make  payment  of  all  charges  in  the  suite  and  ex 

This  record  is  quoted  at  length  because  in  itself  it  sup 
ports  a  number  of  important  propositions:  (i)  Before  the 
middle  of  the  seventeenth  century  some  negroes  in  the 
colony  were  servants  by  indenture  under  the  laws  of  servi 
tude.  (2)  Some  negro  servants  who  had  become  freemen 
owned  indented  negro  servants.  The  act  of  1670  forbidding 
free  negroes  to  own  Christian  servants  but  conceding  them 
the  right  to  own  servants  of  their  own  race62  is  thus  given 
a  concrete  explanation.  (3)  By  the  middle  of  the  century 
it  was  with  difficulty  that  an  African  immigrant  escaped 
being  reduced  to  slavery.  'If  by  the  aid  of  a  county  court 
one  negro  could  reduce  to  slavery  another  who  unfortu 
nately  was  unable  to  produce  his  indenture,  this  proceeding 
taking  place  prior  to  any  statute  supporting  slavery,  it  can 
readily  be  seen  how  difficult  it  had  become  for  negroes  to 
escape  being  made  slaves  for  life  by  white  masters  into 
whose  hands  they  came. 

It  is  noteworthy  that  all  the  records  after  the  middle 
of  the  century  indicate  that  slavery  was  fast  becoming  the 
rule.  An  entry  upon  the  minutes  of  the  general  court  in 
1656  shows  that  a  "  Mulatto  was  held  to  be  a  slave  and 
appeal  taken."63  Negro  servants  were  sometimes  compelled 
by  threats  and  browbeating  to  sign  indentures  for  long  terms 
after  they  had  served  out  their  original  terms.  In  1675 

M  Hening,  vol.  ii,  p.  280. 

83  General  Court  Records.  Printed  in  Virginia  Magazine  of  His 
tory,  vol.  viii,  p.  163. 


34  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

complaint  was  made  by  Philip  Cowen,  a  negro,  that  Charles 
Lucas,  "not  being  willing  that  he  should  enjoy  his  freedom, 
did  with  threats  and  a  high  hand  and  by  confederacy  with 
some  other  persons  "  compel  him  to  set  his  hand  to  a  writ 
ing  which  Lucas  claimed  was  an  indenture  for  twenty  years, 
and  to  acknowledge  it  in  the  county  court  of  Warwick.6* 

Fifteen  years  before  the  passage  of  the  first  act  in  the  Vir 
ginia  slave  code,  white  persons  were  making  assignments  of 
negroes  as  slaves,  and  county  courts  were  recording  and 
recognizing  the  validity  of  contracts  involving  the  service 
of  negroes  for  life,  and,  in  the  case  of  female  negroes,  the 
service  of  the  female  and  her  offspring.  In  1646  Francis 
Pott,  preparing  to  return  to  England,  sold  to  Stephen  Charl- 
ton  a  negro  woman  called  Marchant  and  a  negro  boy  called 
Will,  to  be  "  to  ye  use  of  him  ...  his  heyers  etc.  forever."65 
A  contract  was  made  and  recorded  in  Northampton  County 
in  1652  according  to  the  terms  of  which  William  Whitting- 
ton  "bargained  &  sold  unto  Jno.  Pott  ...  his  heyers, 
Exors.  Adms.  or  Assigns  one  negro  girle  named  Jowan, 
aged  about  ten  years,  with  her  Issue  and  produce  .  .  .  and 
their  services  forever."66 

64  MS.  in  Virginia  State  Archives,  at  one  time  on  exhibition  in  a 
glass  case;  compare  Calendar  of  Virginia  State  Papers,  vol.  i,  p.  10. 

The  petitioner  says  that  at  the  expiration  of  his  term  of  service  he 
was  entitled  to  "  enjoy  his  freedom  &  be  paid  three  barrels  of  corn 
and  a  suit  of  clothes."  This  illustrates  the  statement  of  P.  A. 
Bruce  that  upon  the  close  of  the  negro  servant's  term  he  was 
entitled  to  the  same  quantity  of  clothing  and  corn  as  the  white  ser 
vant  (Economic  History  of  Virginia,  vol.  ii,  p.  53).  The  practice 
is  clearly  stated  in  a  petition  made  by  a  servant  to  the  governor  and 
council  in  1660 :  "  yor  petins  lately  servid  Henry  Sprat  of  ye  County 
of  Lower  Norff.  who  icfuseth  to  pay  him  Corn  and  Cloths  accord 
ing  to  custome  for  wh  ye  petins  obtained  order  of  ye  aforesaid 
Court  against  ye  sd  Mr.  Sprat  &  C"  (Calendar  of  Virginia  State 
Papers,  vol.  i,  p.  4.  See  also  Hening,  vol.  iii,  p.  451). 

65  MS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1651-1654,  p.  28. 
Six  years  later  the  woman  was  living  with  Charlton,  although  dur 
ing  the  six  years  since  her  sale  by  Francis  Pott  she  had  run  away 
from  her  new  master  to  go  and  live  with  John  Pott,  and  later  left 
his  service  to  return  to  Charlton.     She  apparently  exercised  some 
liberty  in  the  choice  of  her  master  (MS.  Court  Records  of  North 
ampton  County,  1651-1654,  p.  81). 

66  MS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1651-1654,  p.  124. 
See  also  MS.  Records  of  Lower  Norfolk  County,  1646-1651,  p.  23, 


Some  time  before  1660  Jane  Rookins  and  Henry  Ran 
dolph  jointly  purchased  a  negro  woman  called  Maria,  with 
the  understanding  that  she  and  her  children  should  belong 
to  William  Rookins  and  William  Randolph  and  their  heirs. 
William  Randolph  died,  and  his  father,  Henry  Randolph,  by 
deed  gave  to  William  Rookins  all  his  right  and  title  to  the 
negro  woman  and  her  children.  A  creditor  of  William 
Randolph  obtained  an  order  against  the  estate  of  the  de 
ceased,  and  the  Surry  County  court  adjudged  one  half  of 
the  negroes,  the  negroes  being  Maria  and  her  children,  to 
belong  to  the  estate  of  William  Randolph.67 

If  further  evidence  is  required  to  show  that  some  negroes 
were  regarded  and  held  as  slaves  between  1640  and  the  date 
of  the  statutory  sanction  of  slavery,  it  may  be  found  in 
inventories  of  estates  of  some  persons  who  held  negroes. 
From  the  records  of  various  counties  it  appears  that  negroes 
for  whose  service  no  limit  is  mentioned  are  valued  in  in 
ventories  at  £20  to  £30  sterling,  while  white  servants  of  the 
longest  terms  of  service  receive  a  valuation  of  not  more 
than  £15  sterling.68  In  the  journal  of  the  House  of  Bur 
gesses  is  recorded  a  petition  of  William  Whittaker,  an  ex- 
member  of  the  House,  that  he  might  be  reimbursed  from 
the  public  treasury  for  a  loss  incurred  by  an  act  of  the 
House  which  set  free  a  negro  for  whom  the  petitioner  had 

for  the  deposition  of  Cornelius  Loyd  concerning  "  a  little  black 
negro  boy"  and  his  mother.  The  boy  was  given  as  a  present  to 
Thomas  Silsey.  See  also  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1654- 
1655,  April,  1654,  for  record  of  sale  "  unto  Henry  Armsteadinger 
one  negro  girle  named  patience  to  him  .  .  .  awid  his  heyers  .  .  .  for 
ever  with  all  her  increase  both  male  and  female." 

67  Petitions  to  the  Governor  and  Council,  in  Virginia  State  Ar 
chives  ;   also  printed  in   Calendar  of  Virginia  State  Papers,  vol.   i, 
PP-  2,  3. 

68  MS.  Court  Records  of  York  County,  1657-1662,  p.  195,  in  Vir 
ginia  State  Library.     In  1668  two  servants,  one  having  four  and  a 
half  and  the  other  three  years  to  serve,  were  valued  at  £12  each,  but 
a  negro  woman  whose  term  was  not  specified  was  valued  at  £27 
(ibid.,  1664-1672,  p.  291,  in  Virginia  State  Library).     In  an  inven 
tory  of  the  latter  part  of  the  century  an  Indian  woman  was  valued 
as  follows:  "  I  Indian  Woman,  if  a  slave  for  life  £25"  (MS.  Court 
Records  of   Elizabeth   City   County,   1684-1699,   p.   223,   in   Virginia 
State  Library).     Compare  P.  A.  Bruce,  Economic  History,  vol.  ii, 
PP-  51,  52. 

36  THE    FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

paid  £25  sterling,  but  from  whom  he  had  had  only  twenty- 
one  years  of  service.  Hence  it  would  seem  that  £25  was 
regarded  as  a  price  too  high  for  servants  except  those  whose 
terms  were  for  life. 

In  the  inventory  of  the  estate  of  William  Burdett,  re 
corded  in  1643,  Nehemia  Freenton,  aged  twenty-two  years, 
having  eight  years  to  serve,  was  rated  at  a  thousand  pounds 
of  tobacco,  while  "  Caine  the  negro  boy,  very  Obedient/' 
was  rated  at  three  thousand  pounds  of  tobacco.  Edward 
Southers,  "a.  little  Boy  having  seaven  years  to  serve,"  was 
valued  at  seven  hundred  pounds  of  tobacco,  while  "  one 
negro  girle  about  8  years  old  "  was  put  down  at  two  thou 
sand  pounds.69  The  inventory  of  Major  Peter  Walker's  es 
tate,  recorded  in  1655,  shows  that  two  good  men  servants 
having  four  years  to  serve  were  worth  thirteen  hundred 
pounds  of  tobacco  each,  and  that  a  woman  servant  having 
two  years  to  serve  was  worth  eight  hundred  pounds  of  to 
bacco.  Two  negro  boys  with  no  term  limit  specified  were 
rated  at  forty-one  hundred  pounds  of  tobacco  each,  and  a 
negro  girl  was  rated  at  fifty-five  hundred  pounds.70  The 
valuation  put  upon  the  servants  of  Thomas  Ludlowe  of 
York  County  in  1660  reveals  the  fact  that  a  white  boy,  a 
"seasoned  hand,"  with  six  years  to  serve,  was  worth  less 
than  an  old  negro  man  and  just  half  as  much  as  Jugg,  a 
negro  woman.71  The  only  reasonable  explanation  of  the 
wide  difference  in  the  valuation  of  white  servants  having 
long  terms  of  service  and  negroes  whose  terms  of  service 
were  not  specified  is  that  the  negroes  were  servants  to  whose 
service  no  limit  was  set,  that  is,  slaves. 

Thus  it  appears  that  before  legislation  affected  in  any  way 
the  development  of  slavery  the  institution  had  grown  up, 
and  without  doubt  included  within  its  scope  a  large  part  of 
the  African  immigrants  who  arrived  after  1640.  Be  it  re 
membered,  however,  that  the  legislative  recognition  and 

09  MS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1640-1645,  p.  225. 
70  Ibid.,  1654-1655,  p.  no. 

T1MS.  Court  Records  of  York  County,  1657-1662,  pp.  275,  278, 
in  Virginia  State  Library. 


sanction  so  abundantly  given  to  slavery  between  1660  and 
1670  did  not  broaden  the  institution  to  include  all  Africans. 
The  first  slave  laws  reduced  to  a  status  of  slavery  no  free 
negroes  or  negroes  who  were  servants  by  covenant  or  con 
tract.  On  the  contrary,  these  first  laws  dealing  with  the 
status  of  the  Africans  in  Virginia  recognized  the  free  negro 
as  amply  as  they  did  the  slave.  The  first  one  of  these  acts, 
passed  in  1662,  provided  that  the  status  of  offspring  should 
follow  the  status  of  the  mother.72  Far  from  reducing  free 
negroes  to  slavery,  this  act  provided  for  the  perpetuation 
of  the  free  negro  population  in  the  provision  which,  as  ap 
plied  to  this  class  of  persons,  guaranteed  to  free  colored 
females  the  right  to  extend  their  free  status  to  their  off 
spring.  The  act  of  1668  dealing  with  the  condition  of  the 
colored  population  related  solely  to  the  tax  obligations  of  a 
free  negro  woman,73  and  two  years  later  an  act  guaranteed 
to  "negroes  manumitted  or  otherwise  free"  the  right  to 
own  servants  of  their  own  race,  and  expressly  denied  to 
them  the  right  to  purchase  or  to  own  white  or  "  Christian  " 
servants.74  Here  again  we  see  in  the  first  laws  which  rec 
ognized  and  sanctioned  slavery  a  guaranty  of  the  continuity 
of  the  free  negro  class. 

Proof  of  the  persistence  of  a  free  negro  population,  how 
ever,  is  not  confined  to  inference  from  statutes.  The  county 
court  and  church  records  continue  without  a  break  the 
record  of  the  free  and  servant  negro  through  the  period 
when  slavery  was  given  the  legislative  sanction.  In  Decem 
ber,  1656,  Benjamin  Doyle,  a  negro,  was  granted  a  patent 
for  three  hundred  acres  of  land  in  Surry  County,  "  due 
...  by  and  for  the  transportation  of  six  persons  into  the 
colony."75  In  addition  to  the  free  negro  landowners  of 
Accomac  County  already  mentioned,  the  records  specify  a 
few  others.  In  1651  John  Johnson,  a  negro,  received  as 
head  rights  for  the  importation  of  eleven  persons  a  tract  of 

73  Hening,  vol.  ii,  p.  170. 
X  "  Ibid.,  vol.  ii,  p.  267. 

74  Ibid.,  vol.  ii,  p.  280. 

75  MS.  Land  Patents,  1655-1664,  pp.  71,  72. 

38  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

five  hundred  and  fifty  acres  adjoining  the  tract  granted  to 
Richard  Johnson.78  There  is  also  a  record  of  a  grant  in 
1651  of  fifty  acres  to  John  Johnson,  sr.77  A  few  years  later 
John  Johnson,  a  negro,  entered  suit  against  John  Johnson,  sr., 
to  recover  four  hundred  and  fifty  acres  of  land.78  Certainly 
this  land  owned  by  free  negroes  remained,  for  many  years 
at  least,  in  their  possession  or  in  the  possession  of  their  de 
scendants.79  In  1667  Emanuel  Cambew,  a  negro,  received 
a  grant  of  fifty  acres  in  James  City  County.80  The  next 
year  a  deed  calling  for  fifty  acres  was  executed  by  Robert 
Jones,  a  tailor  of  Queen's  Creek,  to  "  John  Harris  negro  his 
heyers,  Executrs,  Admtrs,  &  Assigns  forever."81  Some 
time  after  1676  a  lease  of  two  hundred  acres  for  a  period 
of  ninety-nine  years  was  issued  by  John  Parker  to  Philip 
Morgan,  a  negro.82  In  one  instance  at  least  a  negro  ser 
vant  became  the  overseer  of  his  master's  servants.  Beverly 
defines  an  overseer  as  "  a  man  who  having  served  his  time 
has  acquired  Skill  and  Character  of  an  experienced  Planter 
and  is,  therefore,  intrusted  with  the  Direction  of  the  Ser 
vants  and  Slaves."83  In  1669  Hannah  Warwick,  probably 
a  white  servant,  on  trial  before  the  general  court,  produced 
in  extenuation  of  her  case  convincing  evidence  that  her 
overseer  was  a  negro.84  In  1673  a  judgment  was  rendered 
by  the  general  court  against  Mr.  George  Light,  who  had 
unlawfully  detained  in  servitude  beyond  his  contract  term 
of  five  years  a  negro  indented  servant.  It  was  ordered  that 

78  MS.  Land  Patents,  1652-1655,  p.  101. 

7T  MS.    Court    Records    of    Northampton    County,    1651-1654,    pp. 
17,  18. 

78  Ibid.,  p.  200. 

79  J.  C.  Wise,  Ye  Kingdome  of  Accawmacke,  p.  285. 

80  MS.  Land  Patents,  no.  6,  p.  39. 

81  MS.  Court  Records  of  York  County,  1664-1672,  p.  327,  in  Vir 
ginia  State  Library. 

82  MS.    Court    Records    of    Accomac    County,    1676-1690,    p.    185, 
quoted  in  P.  A.  Bruce,  Economic  History,  vol.  ii,  p.  127  n.     See  MS. 
Records  of  Northampton  County,  1683-1689,  p.  258,  for  a  judgment 
against  the  estate  of  a  mulatto. 

83  Book  iv,  p.  37;  compare  P.  A.  Bruce,  Economic  History,  vol.  ii, 
p.  18. 

84  General  Court  Records.     Printed  in  Virginia  Magazine  of  His 
tory,  vol.  viii,  p.  163. 


the  negro  should  "  be  free  from  his  said  master  and  that  the 
said  Mr.  Light  pay  him  Corne  and  Clothes  according  to  the 
Custome  of  the  Country  and  four  hundred  pounds  tobac  & 
Caske  for  his  service  Done  him  since  he  was  free  and  pay 

The  upper  limit  of  the  period  in  which  it  was  possible  for 
negroes  to  come  to  Virginia  as  servants  and  to  acquire  free 
dom  after  a  limited  term  is  the  year  1682.  A  law  of  1670 
was  intended  to  enslave  all  negroes  brought  in  after  its 
enactment,  but  in  practice  it  permitted  a  few  to  escape. 
In  1678  two  men  of  African  blood  were  sold  for  terms  of 
seven  years  by  inhabitants  of  Boston  to  residents  of  Vir 
ginia.86  Under  the  provisions  of  the  law  of  1670  "all  ser 
vants  not  being  Christians  imported  into  this  colony  by  ship 
ping"  were  to  be  slaves  for  their  lives,  but  such  servants 
as  came  by  land  were  to  "serve,  if  boys  and  girls  until 
thirty  years  of  age,  if  men  or  women,  twelve  years  and  no 
longer."87  After  this  act  had  been  in  force  twelve  years, 
the  preamble  of  a  new  act  asserted  that  "many  negroes, 
Moors,  mulattoes  and  others "  born  in  a  heathen  country 
and  of  heathen  parents  had,  before  coming  to  Virginia,  been 
converted  to  the  Christian  faith,  and  that  such  persons, 
when  sold  in  Virginia,  had  to  be  sold  as  servants  for  a  lim 
ited  term.  Hence  an  act  was  passed  repealing  the  law  of 
1670  and  making  slaves  of  all  persons  of  non-Christian 
nationalities  thereafter  coming  into  the  colony,  whether 
they  came  by  sea  or  land  and  whether  or  not  they  had  been 
converted  to  Christianity  after  capture.88 

After  the  enactment  of  this  law  the  free  negro  population 

S5  General  Court  Records,  p.  161. 

89  Bill  of  Sale:  "I,  John  Indicott,  cooper,  Inhabitant  of  Boston 
in  New  England,  have  sold  unto  Richard  Medlicott  A  Spanish 
Mulatto,  by  name  Antonio.  I  having  full  power  to  sell  him  for  his 
life  time.  But  at  the  request  of  William  Taylor,  I  doe  sell  him 
But  for  seven  years  from  the  day  that  he  shall  Disembark  in  Vir 
ginia  "  (MS.  Court  Records  of  Middlesex  County,  Virginia,  March 
5,  1677-1678.  See  also  ibid.,  May  18,  1678.  Cited  in  William  and 
Mary  College  Quarterly,  vol.  vi,  p.  117). 

T  Hening,  vol.  ii,  p.  283. 

88  Ibid.,  vol.  ii,  pp.  490,  491. 

4O  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

in  Virginia  received  from  imported  negroes  no  more  re 
cruits  of  which  we  have  any  record  until  after  the  non 
importation  act  of  I778.89  By  1662  other  means  of  growth 
had  been  opened  up  to  this  class.  For  the  next  two  hun 
dred  years  the  free  colored  population  was  increased  by  five 
classes  of  colored  persons  springing  from  the  population 
already  existing.  The  classes  may  be  enumerated  as 
follows : — 

(1)  Children  born  of  free  colored  parents.     The  rule  of 
partus  sequitur  ventrem  was  applied  consistently  from  1662 
to  1865,  and  natural  increase  or  procreation  was  throughout 
this  period  an  important  factor  in  the  growth  of  the  free 
negro  population. 

(2)  Mulatto  children  born  of  free  colored  mothers. 

(3)  Mulatto   children   born   of  white   servant   or    free 

The  most  numerous  class  of  the  mulattoes  was  of  slave- 
women  parentage,  but  such  children  were  slaves.  Both 
classes  of  free  mulattoes  were  the  product  of  illegitimacy, 
since  the  laws  prohibited  the  intermarriage  of  whites  and 
negroes,  bond  or  free.90  Under  the  provisions  of  the  law 
of  1691  free  mulatto  bastards  were  bound  by  the  church 
wardens  as  apprentices  to  responsible  white  persons  for 
a  term  ending  upon  their  attaining  the  age  of  thirty  years.91 
In  the  revision  of  this  act  in  1705  one  year  was  added  to 
the  period  of  apprenticeship.92  By  1774  this  long-term 
apprenticeship  had  come  to  be  regarded  as  bearing  "an 
unreasonable  severity  toward  such  children,"  and  it  was 
shortened  to  twenty-one  years  for  males  and  eighteen  years 
for  females.93  After  the  disestablishment  of  the  Anglican 

89  The  last  clause  of  the  act  of  this  date  for  preventing  the  further 
importation  of  slaves  into  Virginia  declared:  "That  every  slave 
imported  into  this  commonwealth,  contrary  to  the  true  intent  and 
meaning  of  this  act,  shall  upon  importation  become  free"  (Hening, 
vol.  ix,  p.  471;  vol.  xii,  p.  182).  Under  the  operation  of  this  pro 
vision  a  few  negroes  occasionally  recovered  their  freedom  (5  Call, 
425;  MS.  Petitions,  A  2880,  A  2882). 

80  Hening,  vol.  iii,  p.  87. 

91  Ibid. 

92  Ibid.,  vol.  iii,  p.  453- 

93  Ibid.,  vol.  viii,  pp.  134,  135- 


church  in  1785  this  class  of  persons  were  bound  out  by  the 
overseers  of  the  poor  as  they  had  been  previously  by  the 
church  wardens.94 

(4)  Children  of  free  negro  and  Indian  mixed  parentage. 
If  such  children  had  no  visible  means  of  support,  they  were 
bound  out  as  apprentices,  just  as  were  free  mulatto  children. 
The  offspring  of  all  colored  apprentices  born  during  the 
apprenticeship  became,  by  the  mere  force  of  the  law,  ap 
prentices  to  the  masters  of  their  mothers  on  terms  similar 
to  those  under  which  the  mothers  were  bound.95     All  col 
ored  apprentices  were  counted  with  the  free  colored  popu 
lation  even  during  their  apprenticeship. 

(5)  Manumitted  slaves.     Manumission  was  the  most  im 
portant  of  all  the  methods  by  which  the  free  colored  popula 
tion  was  increased  in  numbers.     In  an  act  of  1670  occurred 
the  words  "  negroes  manumitted  and  otherwise  free."     Hav 
ing  considered  in  this  chapter  the  "otherwise  free,"  the 
following   chapter    will    be    devoted    to   those    who    were 

M  Hening,  vol.  xii,  pp.  27,  28. 

95Gwinn    v.    Bugg,    Jefferson's    Reports,    87    (1769);    Howell    v. 
Netherland,  Jefferson's  Reports,  90   (1770). 


Manumission  is  the  term  which  may  be  applied  to  all  the 
various  processes  by  which  negroes  in  Virginia  were  taken 
from  a  condition  of  slavery  and  legally  raised  to  a  status 
of  freedom,  saving  only  that  act  of  the  nation  by  which 
slavery  was  abolished  in  all  the  States  and  to  which  is  prop 
erly  applied  the  term  emancipation.1  There  are  three  gen 
eral  methods  by  which  slaves  in  Virginia  were  manumitted 
or  legally  set  free  during  the  life  of  the  institution  of  slav 
ery:  (i)  by  an  act  of  the  legislature,  (2)  by  last  will  and 
testament,  and  (3)  by  deed.  A  still  more  general  classifica 
tion  recognizes  only  two  kinds  of  manumission — public  and 
private,  the  first  of  the  three  methods  above  being  classed 
as  public  manumission  and  the  last  two  of  the  three  bearing 
the  name  of  private  manumission. 

According  to  strict  legal  theory  and  the  conception  of 
slavery  maintained  by  the  courts  in  Virginia  in  the  nine 
teenth  century,  there  were  no  private  manumissions.  A  so- 
called  private  manumission,  that  is,  a  manumission  by  will 
or  deed,  was  not  in  fact  the  act  of  the  slave-owner,  but  was 
"  the  conjoint  act  of  the  law  and  the  master."2  "  The  ques 
tion  of  emancipation,"  said  the  Virginia  supreme  court  of 
appeals  in  1830,  "  is  a  question  of  statutory  law  and  can  only 
be  resolved  by  referring  to  the  terms  of  the  statute."3  In 
theory,  a  master  who  freed  a  slave  exercised  a  power  dele- 

1  Emancipation  in  Virginia  came  as  a  result  of  the  Civil  War, 
and  was  an  accomplished  fact  at  its  close  in  the  spring  of   1865. 
Emancipation  was  formally  accepted  by  the  General  Assembly  in 
a  joint  resolution  of  February  6,  1866  (Acts  of  the  General  Assem 
bly  of  Virginia,  1865-1866,  p.  449,  cited  as  Acts;  Richmond  Whig, 
August  n,  1865;  J.  P.  McConnell,  Negroes  and  their  Treatment  in 
Virginia  from  1865  to  1867,  P-  I]0- 

2  Wood  v.  Humphreys,  12  Grattan,  333   (1855). 

3  Thrift  v.  Hannah,  2  Leigh,  319. 



gated  to  him  by  statute.  To  regulate  or  determine  the  status 
of  individuals  was  a  sovereign  power.  By  manumission, 
individuals  who  were  "  in  truth  civiliter  mortuus"*  and  who 
had  the  character  of  property  rather  than  of  persons  were 
raised  to  life  and  personality  within  the  State  and  accorded 
civil  rights  and  civil  liberty.  The  power  to  do  this  was  of 
such  a  high  and  sovereign  character  that  not  even  the  legis 
lature  could  exercise  it  except  by  delegation  from  the  con 
stituent  legislative  authority.  Indeed,  a  practical  applica 
tion  was  made  of  the  theory  in  1849,  when  the  constitutional 
convention  expressly  denied  to  the  General  Assembly  the 
power  to  manumit  a  slave.5 

Viewing  slavery  as  a  legal  status  imposed  upon  persons 
by  the  laws,  it  is  not  surprising  that  the  colonial  legislature, 
which  enacted  the  first  slave  laws  and  freely  imposed  the 
slave  status  upon  certain  persons,  should  assume  that  it  had 
the  power  to  set  slaves  free.  The  first  use  in  Virginia  of 
the  legislative  power  to  break  the  bonds  of  a  slave  was  made 
in  1710.  A  negro  slave  named  Will  had  been  "  signally 
serviceable  in  discovering  a  conspiracy  of  divers  Negroes 
for  levying  war  in  this  colony,"  and  in  recognition  and  re 
ward  of  this  public  service  an  act  was  passed  conferring 
freedom  upon  him.6  However,  it  was  never  the  policy  of 
the  colonial  legislature  to  exercise  its  power  to  manumit 
slaves  except  for  some  such  special  service  or  merit  as  that 
for  which  the  slave  Will  received  his  freedom.  In  1723  it 
delegated  to  the  governor  and  the  council  the  power  to  pass 
upon  the  merit  of  any  claims  to  freedom  based  upon  meri 
torious  service  performed  by  a  slave.7  But  upon  an  occa 
sion  which  arose  out  of  circumstances  connected  with  the 
Revolutionary  War  the  legislature  deemed  it  expedient  to 
resume  the  exercise  of  its  right  to  pass  a  private  act  of 

*  Peter  v.  Hargrave,  5  Grattan,  12. 

5  Constitution  of  Virginia,  1851,  sections  19,  20,  21;  Journal,  Acts, 
and  Proceedings  of  a  General  Convention,  1850,  appendix,  p.  8. 

"  The  said  Negro  Will  is  and  shall  be  forever  hereafter  free  from 
his  slavery  .  .  .  and  shall  enjoy  and  have  all  the  liberties,  privileges, 
and  immunities  of  or  to  a  free  negro  belonging"  (Hening,  vol.  iii, 
P-  536). 

7  Hening,  vol.  iv,  p.  132. 

44  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

manumission.  The  circumstances  were  that  while  Lord 
Dunmore,  the  royal  governor,  who  had  deserted  his  office 
and  fled  the  province,  was  absent  from  the  seat  of  govern 
ment,  application  was  made  for  permission  to  manumit  the 
slaves  of  John  Barr,  of  Northumberland  County,  who  had 
in  his  will  expressed  the  desire  that  they  should  be  free.  In 
the  absence  of  His  Excellency  the  consent  of  the  governor 
and  the  council  obviously  could  not  be  obtained.  Fortu 
nately  for  the  petitioners,  the  Assembly  considered  that  the 
peculiar  circumstances  justified  a  special  legislative  dispen 
sation.  An  act  was  passed  confirming  Barr's  will,  but  spec 
ifying  that  the  act  should  establish  no  precedent  except  in 
cases  exactly  similar.8 

The  act  did,  however,  become  a  precedent  in  one  respect, 
namely,  as  to  the  location  of  the  power  to  pass  upon  appli 
cations  for  permission  to  manumit  slaves.  The  Assembly 
continued  to  perform  the  function,  previously  exercised  by 
the  council,  of  receiving  and  passing  upon  the  merit  of  ap 
plications.  " Application  having  been  made"  in  1779,  a 
special  act  of  the  legislature  was  passed  manumitting  three 
slaves, — John  Hope,  a  mulatto  named  William  Beck,  and 
Pegg.9  Upon  similar  application  made  in  1780  the  legisla 
ture  set  free  Ned,  the  property  of  Henry  Delony,  and  Kate, 
who  belonged  to  Benjamin  Bilberry.10 

As  indicative  of  the  policy  of  the  legislature  with  refer 
ence  to  the  use  of  this  power  of  freeing  persons  from  slav 
ery,  as  well  as  in  illustration  of  the  form  of  such  acts,  we 
quote  from  the  laws  the  following  specimen  of  acts  of 
manumission : — 

An  act  for  the  manumission  of  a  certain  Slave. 

WHEREAS  a  negro  man  slave  named  Kitt  the  property  of  Hinchia 
Mabry,  of  the  County  of  Brunswick,  hath  lately  rendered  meritori 
ous  service  in  this  commonwealth,  in  making  the  first  information 
and  discovery  against  several  persons  concerned  in  counterfeiting 
money,  whereby  so  dangerous  a  confederacy  has  been  in  some  meas 
ure  broken,  and  some  of  the  offenders  have  been  discovered  and 

8  Hening,  vol.  ix,  p.  320. 

9  Ibid.,  vol.  x,  p.  211. 

10  Ibid.,  vol.  x,  p.  372. 


brought  to  trial;  and  it  is  judged  expedient  to  manumit  him  for 
such  service;  Be  it  therefore  enacted  by  the  General  Assembly,  That 
the  said  Kitt  be,  and  is  hereby  declared  to  be  emancipated  and  set 
free ;  any  law  or  usage  to  the  contrary  notwithstanding." 

From  the  Revolutionary  War  onward  a  more  extensive 
and  general  use  was  made  of  this  form  of  manumission  than 
merely  to  reward  acts  of  public  service.  The  legislature  be 
came  a  sort  of  court  of  equity  for  granting  relief  to  masters 
who  were  confronted  with  legal  or  other  difficulties  in  free 
ing  their  slaves  as  well  as  for  extending  mercy  to  slaves  of 
a  deserving  or  piteous  character.12  In  more  than  one  in 
stance  special  legislative  acts  were  obtained  to  give  legal 
validity  to  wills  of  manumission  recorded  before  the  act  of 
1782  authorizing  this  procedure.13  Hundreds  of  colored 
petitioners  sought  special  acts  that  they  might  not  be  de 
prived  of  freedom  because  of  mistake  or  oversight  or  fraud 
in  the  execution  of  a  will  or  of  an  expressed  intention  of  a 
master  to  set  them  free.1*  Among  the  acts  of  a  private 
nature  passed  in  the  period  of  the  Commonwealth  down  to 
about  1825  are  to  be  found  a  large  number  of  acts  setting 
slaves  free  or  granting  such  as  were  already  liberated  a 
legal  right  to  reside  in  the  State.15 

The  method  of  manumission  by  an  act  of  the  legislature 
is  not  the  method  the  genesis  of  which  requires  the  more 
detailed  explanation.  The  colonial  House  of  Burgesses,  the 
sovereign  legislative  body  in  Virginia,  inferred  from  its 
right  to  make,  its  right  to  unmake,  a  slave.  But  what  was 

"Hening,  vol.  x,  p.  115  (1779).  It  was  further  enacted  that  the 
treasurer  of  the  Commonwealth  "  pay  to  Hinchia  Mabry  .  .  .  the 
sum  of  one  thousand  pounds  [of  tobacco]  out  of  the  publick  treas 
ury,  as  a  full  compensation  for  the  said  slave."  In  all  cases  where 
the  special  act  of  manumission  was  in  reward  of  a  public  service, 
provision  was  made  for  compensating  the  owner  of  the  slave  for  his 
loss.  Cf.  Hening,  vol.  iii,  p.  619;  vol.  xi,  p.  309. 

13  See,  for  example,  an  act  of  1792  manumitting  Rosetta  Hailstock 
and  her  three  children,  who  had  been  barred  from  freedom  by  a 
legal  technicality  (Hening,  vol.  viii,  p.  618).  See  also  ibid.,  vol.  xi, 
P-  363. 

*  Hening,  vol.  xii,  pp.  611-613;  vol.  xiii,  p.  619. 

"  For  example,  see  MS.  Petitions,  Henrico  County,  1818,  A  9290. 

"Acts  of  a  private  character,  1811-1812,  p.  131;  1813-1814,  p.  153; 
1814-1815,  p.  151.  The  private  acts  of  almost  any  year  within  the 
above-named  period  will  afford  examples. 

46  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

the  origin  of  the  right  of  an  individual  slave-owner  to  be 
stow  civil  rights  and  civil  liberties  upon  a  slave,  which  in 
the  eyes  of  the  law  was  a  thing?  Manumission  by  a  will 
or  a  deed  cannot  be  regarded  as  merely  a  transfer  of  the 
property  rights  in  the  slave  from  the  master  to  the  slave, 
because  in  the  eyes  of  the  law  there  existed  "  no  right  in  the 
slave  to  acquire  property."16  "  Manumission,"  said  Judge 
Tucker,  "  is  not  strictly  speaking  a  gift  of  property.  It  is 
the  exoneration  of  a  human  being  from  the  bonds  which 
our  institutions  have  fastened  upon  him."17 

Now,  the  first  law  which  could  be  construed  as  delegating 
to  or  conferring  upon  slave-owners  any  right  to  make  free 
men  of  their  slaves  was  enacted  in  1691, 18  but  it  appears 
from  the  records  of  the  county  courts  that  manumissions 
had  been  taking  place  several  decades  before  this  act  was 
passed.  In  fact,  the  act  itself,  which  was  a  rigid  restriction 
upon  the  right  of  private  manumission,  shows  that  the  act 
did  not  originate  the  right.  The  first  wills  of  manumission 
in  the  colony  were  made  and  recorded  not  only  prior  to  the 
statute  of  1691,  but  also  in  advance  of  any  statute  in  regard 
to  slavery.  To  reconcile  these  facts  with  the  nineteenth 
century  theory  of  manumission,  Judge  Brooks,  speaking 
for  the  court  in  Thrift  v.  Hannah,  said,  "Although  it  had 
been  the  practice  of  owners  of  slaves  to  emancipate  their 
slaves  before  the  act  of  1691,  that  practice  gave  no  perfect 
right  to  owners,  of  their  own  will  to  emancipate  their 

The  origin  of  that  practice  has  its  explanation  in  the  close 
relations  of  indented  servitude  and  slavery  in  the  seven 
teenth  century.  Before  slavery  as  an  institution  had  fully 
diverged  from  indented  servitude  it  borrowed  from  that 
system  the  practice  of  manumission  by  individual  masters. 
Under  the  system  of  indented  servitude  the  time  or  term 
of  service  for  which  a  servant  was  bound  was,  though  the 

19  Ruddle's  Executors  v.  Ben,  10  Leigh,  480  (1839). 
"Parks  v.  Hewlett,  9  Leigh,  511  (1838). 

18  Hening,  vol.  iii,  p.  87. 

19  2  Leigh,  319.     See  also  argument  of  council  in  Phoebe  et  al.  v. 
Boggess,  i  Grattan,  129  (1844). 


servant  himself  was  not,  regarded  as  property.  The  unex- 
pired  time  of  a  servant  could  be  alienated,  like  other  prop 
erty,  by  gift,  sale,  or  bequest.20  The  servant,  unlike  the 
slave  of  the  eighteenth  and  nineteenth  centuries,  was  capa 
ble  of  contracting  and  of  holding  property.  If  the  master 
of  a  servant  chose  to  sell  or  make  a  gift  of  the  servant's 
unexpired  time  to  the  servant  himself,  the  servant  was 
capable  of  receiving  the  same  and  would  thereafter  owe 
service  to  no  man.  For  example,  the  will  of  Samuel 
Thacker,  of  Essex  County,  contained  this  item :  "  I  give 
unto  my  servant,  John  Glary,  one  year  of  his  time."21  It 
has  been  noted  in  the  chapter  on  negro  servitude  that  evi 
dence  of  the  discharge  of  a  negro  servant  was  sometimes 
recorded  in  a  written  instrument.  Now,  in  the  seventeenth 
century  the  processes  by  which  masters  set  negroes  free, 
whether  they  were  servants  for  a  time  or  for  life,  were  more 
like  discharges  from  servitude  than  manumissions  from 

In  1655  Richard  Vaughan,  of  Northampton  County,  had 
recorded  by  the  county  court  the  following  declaration  re 
specting  one  of  his  negroes :  "  These  testify  that  Mr.  Rich 
Vaughan  doe  hereby  acquitt  &  discharge  one  negro  Boye 
known  by  the  name  of  James  from  all  Claymes  or  Demands 
of  service  for  myself,  heyers,  Exors.,  Adms.  provided  the 
negro  do  not  covenant  with  any  person  but  shall  keepe  him- 
selfe  free."22 

Two  years  later  Anne  Barnhouse,  of  York  County,  exe 
cuted  an  instrument  of  writing  which  in  form  was  quite 
similar  to  the  deeds  of  manumission  of  the  eighteenth  and 
nineteenth  centuries.  It  reads  as  follows :  "  Mihill  Gowen 

20  As  an  example  of  the  transfer  of  the  time  of  servants  by  be 
quest,  note  the  following  will,  of  date  1657 :  "  I  Francis  Jones  Wid- 
dow  of  ye  county  of  York  Doe  freely  give  unto  my  Loving  Sonne 
Francis  Townshend  these  servants  and  cattle  .  .  .  Five  Servants  & 
one  child  their  names  John  Reeves,  John  Keech,  Richard  Poutry, 
John  Swillinante  &  one  negro  woman  named  sarah  and  his  child 
Francis  two  years  old"  (MS.  Court  Records  of  York  County, 
1657-1662,  p.  88.  Compare  Ballagh,  White  Servitude,  pp.  43,  44). 

a  Essex  County  Records,  1713,  abstracts  printed  in  Virginia  Mag 
azine  of  History,  vol.  xviii,  p.  329. 

22  MS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1655-1658,  p.  3. 

48  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

negro  late  servant  of  my  brother  Xopher  Stafford  Deced^ 
.  .  .  had  his  Freedome  given  him  by  his  last  will  &  Testa 
ment — 1654 — after  expiration  of  four  years  service  unto 
my  Uncle  Robert  Stafford  therefore  know  that  I  absolutely 
quitt  &  discharge  the  said  Mihill  Gowen  from  any  service 
and  forever  set  him  free."23 

In  a  similar  writing  of  the  same  date  Anne  Barnhouse 
assigned  as  a  gift  to  Mihill  Gowen  a  child  of  his,  born  of  a 
negro  woman  belonging  to  Anne  Barnhouse  during  Gowen's 
four-year  term  of  service.  The  writing  binds  Anne  Barn- 
house  "never  to  trouble  or  molest  the  said  Mihill  Gowen 
or  his  said  son  William  or  demand  any  service  of  Mihill  or 
his  son."24  Even  if  the  negroes  discharged  by  these  legal 
instruments  were  slaves  prior  to  their  discharge,  it  is  per 
fectly  clear  that  the  conception  which  their  owners  had  of 
slavery  was  not  such  as  prevailed  at  a  later  time.  A  slave, 
in  the  seventeenth  century  conception,  was  merely  a  person 
serving  for  life.  If  such  slave,  who  was  then  regarded  as 
a  person  and  not  as  a  thing  (as  he  later  came  to  be),  were 
discharged  and  given  a  pledge  by  his  master  that  no  further 
service  would  be  demanded,  he  went  as  a  free  man,  just  as 
did  a  servant  freed  at  the  expiration  of  a  period  of  contract 
servitude.  In  the  nineteenth  century  the  gift  or  assignment 
of  a  slave  child  to  its  free  father,  as  in  the  case  of  the  gift 
by  Anne  Barnhouse  of  the  child  William  to  its  father,  would 
have  rendered  the  child  a  slave  to  its  father ;  but  in  the  sev 
enteenth  century  the  result  of  such  a  process  was  the  com 
plete  freedom  of  the  child. 

Not  only  in  such  of  these  early  writings  as  took  the  form 
of  deeds  of  manumission,  but  also  in  the  earliest  recorded 
wills  bequeathing  freedom  we  see  the  analogy  between  man 
umission  as  first  practiced  and  the  discharge  from  servitude 
of  indented  servants.  As  was  shown  in  a  former  chapter, 
it  was  the  custom  and  later  the  law  of  indented  servitude 
that  the  servant,  white  or  colored,  receive  from  his  master 

23  MS.  Court  Records  of  York  County,  1657-1662,  p.  45,  in  Vir 
ginia  State  Library. 

24  Ibid. 


at  the  time  of  his  discharge  from  servitude  a  certain  amount 
of  property  called  "  freedom  dues."25  Nearly  all  of  the 
seventeenth  century  wills  of  manumission  contained  grants 
of  property  to  the  liberated  negroes.  The  earliest  of  which 
we  have  any  record  is  that  of  Richard  Vaughan,  written  in 
1645  and  recorded  in  1656,  making  bequests  of  a  consider 
able  amount  of  property  to  each  negro  set  free.26  In  1657 
Nicholas  Martin,  of  York  County,  left  a  will  setting  free 
two  negroes,  and  providing  that  "each  of  them  have  .  .  . 
one  Cow  and  Three  Barrells  of  Corne  Clothes  &  Nayles  to 
build  them  a  house."27  Thomas  Whitehead  of  the  same 
county  died  about  1660,  leaving  a  will  which  shows  that  the 
testator  believed  that  he  was  merely  releasing  his  negro 
from  further  obligations  of  service  or  simply  shortening  a 
servant's  term.  The  item  of  the  will  giving  to  the  negro  the 
right  which  the  testator  had  had  to  his  service  reads :  "  I 
sett  my  negro  free  ...  he  shall  be  his  own  man  from  any 
person  or  persons  whatsoever." 

This  negro  was  considered  by  his  master  as  having  the 

26  See  above,  p.  34  n. 

"  The  last  will  and  testament  of  Mr.  Richard  Vaughan  planter 
in  Ocohamocke,  in  Accomacke.  .  .  . 

"And  for  my  old  Negro  woman  (after  my  decease)  to  remayne 
with  her  Dame,  till  her  Dames  decease;  and  then  bee  free;  and  to 
receive  twoe  Cowes  wth  calfe  (or  calves  by  their  side)  two  suits 
of  clothes,  a  bedd  &  a  Rugge,  a  chest  &  a  pott  with  foure  Barrells 
of  Corne  &  a  younge  breedinge  Sowe;  Likewise  my  Negro  girle 
Temperance  (after  my  decease)  to  bee  possessed  of  two  Cowes  and 
to  have  their  increase  male  and  female ;  and  she  to  remayne  with 
her  Dame  ...  to  be  brought  up  in  the  Fear  of  God  &  to  be  taught 
to  read  &  make  her  owne  clothes,  and  after  her  Dames  decease 
[and  when]  she  come  to  twenty  yeares  of  age  ...  to  receive  two 
cows  with  calves  (or  calves  by  their  side)  Two  good  suits  of  clothes, 
a  good  Bedd  &  Bowlster  &  a  Rugg  &  two  Blanketts  &  a  pott  and 
one  great  Brass  Kettle  with  Four  Barrells  of  corne  &  a  younge 
breeding  sowe." 

The  rest  of  the  negroes,  three  in  number,  were  provided  for  in 
a  similar  way,  and  then  there  was  appended  the  clause  "  that  ye 
three  Negro  girls  be  possessed  of  the  plantacon  of  Jno  Walthome 
beinge  to  this  plantacon  some  hundred  &  forty  &  four  acres  of  land; 
and  he  to  build  them  a  Home  twenty-five  feete  in  length  and 
twenty  feete  broad,  with  one  chimney"  (MS.  Court  Records  of 
Northampton  County,  1654-1655,  pp.  102,  103). 

27  MS.  Court  Records  of  York  County,  1633-1694,  p.  108,  in  Vir 
ginia  State  Library. 

5O  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1661-1865 

capacity  to  receive  the  property  rights  in  the  negro's  time 
and  also  certain  of  the  master's  personal  effects ;  for  other 
items  of  the  will  provided  as  follows :  "  I  give  my  negro 
man  named  John  all  my  wearing  clothes,  my  shirts  &  hatts 
&  shoes  and  stockings  and  all  that  I  used  to  weare.  I  give 
unto  my  negro  named  John  Two  Cows  One  called  gentle 
and  the  other  a  black  heifer  &  I  give  him  house  &  ground 
to  plant  upon  as  much  as  he  shall  tend  himselfe  &  peaceably 
to  enjoy  it  his  life  time  without  trouble."  A  short  time 
after  this  will  was  recorded  the  county  court  of  York  de 
cided  that  the  instrument  had  the  effect  of  making  the  negro 
a  free  man,  and  that  he  was  legally  entitled  to  come  into 
possession  of  the  property  bequeathed  to  him  by  his  master.28 
All  the  instances  of  manumissions  by  individual  masters 
above  cited  occurred  before  the  institution  of  slavery  had 
reached  the  legislative  phase  of  its  development.  The  first 
slavery  legislation,  in  1662,  in  no  way  interrupted  the  prac 
tice  of  manumission.  Whether  the  frequency  of  private 
manumissions  in  the  seventeenth  century  was  a  result  more 
of  a  strong  body  of  sentiment  favorable  to  freedom  than 
of  an  imperfect,  immature  development  of  the  system  of 
slavery  is  a  question  that  may  not  be  answered  with  cer 
tainty.  Probably  the  freedom  of  some  negroes  was  due  to 
the  one  and  the  freedom  of  others  due  to  the  other  of  these 
conditions,  but  the  evidence  points  clearly  to  the  fact  that 
up  to  1691  the  class  of  "  negroes  manumitted  "  was  becom 
ing  noticeably  larger.  The  tax  obligations  of  this  class 
formed  a  subject  of  legislation  in  i67O.29  In  1684  John 
Farrar,  of  Henrico  County,  wrote  in  his  will  the  following 
item :  "  I  give  unto  my  negroe  Jack  his  freedom  after  Christ 
mas  day  next  &  in  ye  meantime  he  continue  on  my  plantation 
&  use  his  endeavors  with  the  rest  of  my  hands  to  make  a 
Cropp."30  Daniell  Parke,  of  York  County,  in  1687,  "  con 
sidering  the  time  and  ffaithful  Service"  of  one  of  his  ne- 

28  MS.  Court  Records  of  York  County,  1657-1662,  p.  217,  in  Vir 
ginia  State  Library. 

29  Hening,  vol.  ii,  p.  280. 

30  MS.  Court  Records  of  Henrico  County,   1677-1692,  p.  299,  in 
Virginia  State  Library. 


groes,  willed  that  he  should  be  free  at  the  time  of  the  tes 
tator's  death,  and  should  have  an  annual  allowance  of 
provisions.31  The  will  of  Nathaniel  Bacon,  sr.,  in  1691, 
bequeathed  to  "  Molatto  Kate  her  freedome,  Itt  being 
formerly  promised  by  my  deceased  wife."32  The  will  of 
John  Carter,  proved  in  Lancaster,  June  n,  1690,  gave  free 
dom  to  "  several  negroes."33 

By  the  year  1690  the  free  negro  class  had  become  an  object 
of  suspicion  and  fear.  The  increasing  frequency  of  manu 
missions  created  apprehensions  as  to  the  consequences  of 
allowing  the  practice  to  continue,  and  restrictive  legislation 
was  deemed  expedient.  The  preamble  of  the  restrictive  act, 
which  was  passed  in  1691,  declared  a  law  to  be  necessary 
to  prevent  manumissions,  because  "  great  inconvenience  may 
happen  to  this  country  by  setting  of  negroes  and  mulattoes 
free  by  their  either  entertaining  negro  slaves  or  receiving 
stolen  goods  or  being  grown  old  bringing  a  charge  upon  the 
country.''34  Under  the  provisions  of  this  act  no  negro  or 
mulatto  was  to  be  set  free  unless  the  person  so  doing  should 
pay  the  charges  for  transporting  the  manumitted  negro  be 
yond  the  limits  of  the  colony.  Thus  was  devised  a  scheme 
which  would  offer  three  obstacles  to  the  increase  of  the  free 
negro  class:  A  charge  of  transportation  would  restrain  the 
master;  the  prospect  of  banishment  would  restrain  the  de 
sire  of  the  slave  to  be  free.  Should  both  of  these  restraints 
fail  in  any  case,  removal  would  prevent  addition  to  the  free 
colored  class.35 

31  The  will  bound  the  executors  to  "  allow  unto  the  said  negro 
fifteene  Bushells  of  Clean  shilled  Corne  and  fifty  pounds  of  dryed 
beif  to  be  delivered  him  annually  as  long  as  hee  shall  live.     Also 
one  Kersey  Coat  and  Britches,  two  pair  of  yarne  stockings  two 
white  or  blew  shirts  one  pair  of  blew  drawers  an  Axe  a  Hoe  and  to 
pay  his  leavies  "   (MS.  Court  Records  of  York  County,   1687-1691, 
p.  278,  in  Virginia  State  Library). 

32  MS.  Court  Records  of  York  County,  1690-1694,  p.  154,  in  Vir 
ginia  State  Library. 

33  Virginia  Magazine  of  History,  vol.  xi,  p.  237. 
M  Hening,  vol.  iii,  p.  87. 

85  Under  the  provisions  of  this  law  Richard  Trother,  of  York 
County,  near  the  close  of  the  century  made  his  will  which  reads : 
"  I  will  that  old  negro  Peter  and  negro  Tom  have  their  true  and 

52  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

The  conduct  of  the  legislature  in  1710  in  manumitting  by 
special  act  a  negro  slave  might  appear  to  be  inconsistent 
with  the  restrictive  policy  begun  in  1691,  unless  the  legis 
lative  purpose  in  both  instances  be  kept  in  view.  The 
policy  of  the  colonial  legislature,  begun  in  1710,  of  reward 
ing  with  freedom  any  acts  of  special  merit  in  slaves  was  no 
indication  of  the  growth  of  freedom  sentiment.  Its  real 
intent  was  a  more  perfect  disciplining  of  negroes  in  slavery. 
Freedom  in  the  case  of  the  negro  Will  was  awarded  as  an 
example  to  discourage  in  slaves  that  which  most  free  ne 
groes  were  suspected  of  encouraging,  namely,  insubordina 
tion  and  any  disposition  to  plot  mischief.  Danger  from  con 
spiring  and  plotting  negroes  was  the  common  object  at 
which  both  laws  were  designed  to  strike. 

Notwithstanding  the  effort  made  to  prevent  servile  insur 
rection,  new  conspiracies  were  discovered  within  the  next 
dozen  years,  and  the  fears  of  the  people  were  again  much 
aroused.  "  Tumultuous  and  unlawful  meetings,"  "  secret 
plots  and  conspiracies  carried  on  among"  all  classes  of  ne 
groes,  "  dangerous  combinations,"  the  exchange  of  advice 
"  to  rebel  and  make  insurrection,"  brought  the  colonial  leg 
islature  to  declare  existing  laws  "  insufficient."36  The  free 
negroes,  suspected  and  accused  upon  every  occasion  of  an 
outbreak,  became  in  this  instance  the  objects  of  restrictive 
legislation.  By  an  act  passed  in  1723  they  were  forbidden 
to  visit  or  meet  with  slaves  and  to  carry  or  own  a  firelock.37 
They  were  deprived  of  the  right  to  vote  at  elections  and  dis 
criminated  against  in  the  levying  of  taxes  ;38  but  still,  de 
spairing  of  success  in  restraining  the  free  negro  by  drastic 
police  measures,  the  legislature  determined  to  prohibit  en 
tirely  manumission  by  individual  slave-owners.  In  1723 
an  act  was  passed  which  declared  that  under  no  pretense 

perfect  liberty  and  freedome  six  days  after  my  wife's  decease  and 
15  pounds  sterling  money  to  be  paid  apiece  for  their  transporta 
tion"   (MS.  Court  Records  of  York  County,  1694-1/02,  p.  194,  in 
Virginia  State  Library). 
39  Hening,  vol.  iv,  p.  126. 

37  Ibid.,  vol.  iv,  p.  131. 

38  Ibid.,  vol.  iv,  p.  133. 


whatsoever  could  a  master,  without  the  license  of  the  gov 
ernor  and  the  council,  manumit  a  slave.30  Moreover, "  meri 
torious  service  "  was  made  the  sole  ground  upon  which  per 
mission  might  be  obtained  for  setting  free  a  slave.40  If 
this  law  prohibiting  manumission  were  violated,  it  became 
the  duty  of  the  churchwardens  of  the  parish  in  which  the 
violation  occurred  to  apprehend  and  sell  the  negro  "by 
public  outcry,"  and  to  apply  the  receipts  to  the  use  of  the 

From  this  time  till  near  the  end  of  the  colonial  period,  or, 
in  other  words,  for  nearly  half  a  century,  the  policy  of  pro 
hibiting  voluntary  manumission  met  with  little  opposition.41 
The  provisions  of  1723  were  reenacted  in  1748  with  no 
alterations  that  indicate  a  desire  to  allow  to  the  free  negro 
class  wider  liberty  or  possibility  of  increase.42  Under  the 
enforced  prohibitions  of  these  laws,  manumissions  were  few 
and  widely  separated.43  The  "  meritorious  service "  for 
which  a  slave  could  expect  to  be  rewarded  with  freedom 
was  something  more  than  faithfulness  of  service.  In  1729 
the  discovery  by  a  slave  of  an  herb  medicine  by  which  won 
derful  cures  could  be  effected  merited  favorable  action  by 
the  governor  and  the  council.44  Rev.  Charles  Greene  de- 

^Hening,  vol.  iv,  p.   132. 

40  Cf.  J.  B.  Minor,  Institutes  of  Common  and  Statute  Law,  vol. 
i,  p.  167. 

41  That   "  the  manumission  of   slaves   was   never  popular   in   the 
colony"  was  the  opinion  of  a  writer  so  careful  of  statement  as 
H.  B.  Grigsby  (Collections  of  the  Virginia  Historical  Society,  vol. 
x,  p.  133-     Cited  as  Virginia  Historical  Collections). 

42  Hen  ing,  vol.  vi,  p.  112. 

"  The  number  of  manumissions  under  such  restrictions  must 
necessarily  have  been  very  few"  (St.  G.  Tucker,  A  Dissertation  on 
Slavery,  ed.  1796,  p.  71). 

44  Governor  Gooch  asserted  in  a  letter  to  the  Board  of  Trade  that 
he  had  "  met  with  a  negro,  a  very  old  man  who  has  performed  many 
wonderful  cures  of  diseases.  For  the  sake  of  his  freedom  he  has 
revealed  the  medicine,  a  concoction  of  roots  and  barks.  .  .  . 
There  is  no  room  to  doubt  of  its  being  a  certain  remedy  here  &  of 
singular  use  among  the  negroes — it  is  well  worth  the  price  (£60)  of 
the  negro's  freedom  since  it  is  now  known  how  to  cure  slaves  with 
out  mercury"  (Sainsbury  Transcripts  from  the  British  Public 
Record  Office,  vol.  ix,  p.  462). 

54  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

sired  to  manumit  his  slave  woman,  Sarah,  in  1767,  but  under 
the  laws  in  force  he  could  not  carry  out  his  desire.45 

Up  to  1763,  the  date  of  the  close  of  the  struggle  between 
the  English  and  the  French  colonies  in  America,  wars  and 
troubles  with  the  Indians  had  occupied  so  much  of  the  at 
tention  of  the  people  that  there  was  little  opportunity  for  the 
growth  of  an  enlightened  sentiment  favorable  to  freedom 
for  the  negroes,  whose  labor  was  proving  so  valuable  in  the 
development  of  the  resources  of  the  colony.  Jefferson  once 
wrote  that  at  the  time  when  our  controversy  with  England 
was  still  "  on  paper  only,  few  minds  had  yet  doubted  but 
they  [the  negroes]  were  as  legitimate  subjects  of  property 
as  their  horses  or  cattle."46  Andrew  Burnaby,  travelling  in 
Virginia  from  1759  to  1760,  asserted  that  "their  [the  peo 
ple's]  ignorance  of  mankind  and  of  learning  exposes  them 
to  many  errors  and  prejudices,  especially  in  regard  to  In 
dians  and  Negroes,  whom  they  scarcely  consider  of  the 
human  species."47 

This  statement  was  written  at  about  as  late  a  date  as  it 
could  have  been  truthfully  made,  for  the  principles  of  the 
rights  of  man  and  freedom  by  nature  could  not  effect  a  revo 
lution  against  foreign  oppression  and  not  ameliorate  the 
hard  situation  of  Virginia's  black  population.  An  article 
in  the  Virginia  Gazette  in  1767  began  with  the  following  sig 
nificant  words,  "  Long  and  serious  reflections  upon  the  na 
ture  and  consequences  of  slavery,"  and  went  on  to  say  that 
"now,  as  freedom  is  unquestionably  the  birth-right  of  all 
mankind,  Africans  as  well  as  Europeans,  to  keep  the  former 
in  a  state  of  slavery  is  a  constant  violation  of  the  right  and 

45  MS.  Petitions,  Fairfax  County,  1785,  A  5460. 

48  To  Edward  Coles,  August  25,  1814,  in  H.  S.  Randall,  Life  of 
Thomas  Jefferson,  vol.  iii,  p.  643.  W.  Goodell  erroneously  used  this 
sentence  from  Jefferson's  letter  to  describe  the  condition  or  state 
of  sentiment  in  Virginia  at  the  time  the  letter  was  written  (The 
American  Slave  Code  in  Theory  and  Practice,  p.  48).  The  time  of 
which  Jefferson  was  writing  was  when  he  "  came  into  public  life " 
before  the  war  with  England.  The  statement  would  not  have  been 
true  had  it  been  made  with  reference  to  conditions  in  1814. 

*T  Travels  through  the  Middle  Settlements  of  North  America,  p.  54, 


therefore  justice."48  Two  years  later  Thomas  Jefferson  be 
came  a  member  of  the  legislature,  and  upon  his  initiative 
and  with  his  aid  Colonel  Bland,  one  of  the  oldest,  ablest, 
and  most  respected  members  of  that  body,  pressed  forward 
a  proposition  to  remove  the  restrictions  which  for  forty-six 
years  the  laws  had  imposed  upon  voluntary  manumission. 
"I  seconded  his  motion,"  wrote  Jefferson,  "and  as  a  younger 
member  was  more  spared  in  the  debate,  but  he  was  de 
nounced  as  an  enemy  to  his  country  and  was  treated  with 
the  greatest  indecorum."49  Opposition  to  the  measure  was 
as  yet  overpowering,  but  the  kind  of  support  it  received 
augured  well  for  a  later  victory.  Even  a  legislature  as  con 
servative  as  this  one  declared  that  the  discriminatory  tax 
levied  upon  free  negroes  and  mulattoes  since  1668  was 
"  derogatory  to  the  rights  of  free  born  subjects,"  and,  there 
fore,  that  it  stood  repealed.50  A  new  antislavery  spirit 
which  was  nation-wide  in  its  operation  was  powerfully 
affecting  sentiment  in  Virginia.  While  that  spirit  was  ris 
ing  at  the  North  which  was  to  culminate  from  1777  to  1785 
in  acts  of  emancipation  in  Vermont,  Pennsylvania,  Massa 
chusetts,  New  Hampshire,  Connecticut,  and  Rhode  Island, 
and  in  a  manumission  act  in  Maryland,  it  was  destined  to 
grow  and  spread  in  Virginia  till  it  effected  the  repeal  of  the 
old  restraints  upon  manumission,  and  strongly  threatened 
the  existence  of  the  institution  of  slavery  in  that  State. 

The  movement  in  Virginia  kept  a  remarkably  even  pace 
with  the  American  Revolution.  Since  both  were  applica 
tions  of  the  principles  of  natural  equality  and  individual  lib 
erty,  they  must  indeed  be  viewed  as  two  parts  of  the  same 
current  of  progress.  "  The  glorious  and  ever  memorable 
Revolution,"  argued  many  petitioners  of  the  legislature, 
"can  be  justified  on  no  other  principles,  but  what  do  plead 
with  still  greater  force  for  the  emancipation  of  our  slaves 

48  Virginia  Gazette,  March  19,  1767,  quoted  in  Views  of  American 
Slavery,  Taken  a  Century  Ago,  p.  109. 

"Jefferson  to  Edward  Coles,  August  25,  1814,  in  Randall,  Life  of 
Jefferson,  vol.  iii,  p.  643 ;  G.  Tucker,  Life  of  Thomas  Jefferson,  vol. 
i,  p.  46. 

60  Hening,  vol.  ii,  p.  267 ;  vol.  viii,  p.  393. 

56  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

in  proportion  as  the  oppression  exercised  over  them  ex 
ceeds  the  oppression  formerly  exercised  over  the  United 
States  by  Great  Britain."51 

This  logical  application  of  the  Revolutionary  philosophy, 
though  not  quite  convincing  to  the  legislature,  was  freely 
and  conscientiously  accepted  by  many  individuals.52  From 
the  beginning  of  the  war  it  became  quite  common  among 
slave-owners  to  apply  the  doctrine;  for  example,  John 
Payne,  of  Hanover  County,  in  the  year  of  the  Declaration 
of  Independence  freed  his  slave  because  he  was  "persuaded 
that  liberty  is  the  natural  condition  of  all  mankind. "53  Some 
slave-owners  ignored  the  laws,  as  did  Charles  Moorman,  a 
Quaker,  of  Louisa  County,  who  in  1778  executed  a  deed  of 
manumission  relinquishing  his  right  to  thirty-three  slaves 
as  if  there  were  no  laws  forbidding  such  action.54  Joseph 
Mayo,  of  Henrico  County,  owner  of  nearly  a  hundred  slaves, 
was  more  desirous  that  his  act  be  in  conformity  with  the 
laws,  and  expressed  in  his  will  a  "  most  earnest  request  that 
the  executors  petition  the  General  Assembly  for  leave  to 

51  MS.  Petitions,  Hanover  County,  1785 ;  Frederick  County,  1786, 
A  6340. 

62  In  1814  Thomas  Jefferson  expressed  his  disappointment  that  the 
generation  who  had  received  "their  early  impressions  after  the 
flame  of  liberty  had  been  kindled  in  every  breast,  and  had  become, 
as  it  were,  the  vital  spirit  of  every  American"  had  not  gone  even 
to  the  extent  of  making  possible  a  general  emancipation  of  slaves 
(Jefferson  to  Edward  Coles,  in  Randall,  Life  of  Jefferson,  vol.  iii, 
p.  644). 

53  See  quotation  of  the  original  will  in  R.  A.  Brock's  prefatory  note 
to  "  The  Fourth  Charter  of  the  Royal  African  Company,"  in  Vir 
ginia  Historical  Collections,  vol.  vi,  p.  18.  In  1771  Jonathan 
Pleasants,  a  large  slave-owner,  attempted  to  provide  that  his  slaves 
be  set  free  by  a  will  beginning  thus :  "  and  first  believing  that  all 
mankind  have  an  undoubted  right  to  freedom  and  commiserating  the 
situation  of  my  negroes"  (2  Call,  270).  William  Binford,  of  Hen 
rico  County,  set  free  twelve  youthful  slaves  in  1782  because  he  was 
"  fully  persuaded  that  freedom  is  the  nat'l  right  of  all  mankind " 
(MS.  Deeds  of  Henrico  County,  no.  I,  p.  421).  In  1790  Colonel 
William  Grason  manumitted  all  of  his  slaves  "born  after  the  Dec 
laration  of  Independence"  ("History  of  the  Virginia  Federal  Con 
vention,  of  1788,"  in  Virginia  Historical  Collections,  vol.  ix,  p.  211). 
For  similar  expressions  see  MS.  Deeds  of  Henrico  County,  no.  3,  p. 
378;  no.  7,  P-  131- 

M  Hening,  vol.  xii,  p.  613. 


set  free  all"  his  slaves.55  Some  masters  made  their  wills 
in  anticipation  of  an  act  permitting  manumission.  A  notable 
instance  was  the  devise  made  in  1777  by  John  Pleasants,  a 
Quaker,  whose  will,  when  later  held  valid  by  the  supreme 
court  of  appeals,  set  free  several  hundred  slaves.50  The 
contingency  upon  which  this  devise  of  freedom  in  futuro 
was  based  was  that  "the  laws  of  the  land  .  .  .  admit  them 
to  be  set  free  without  their  being  transported  out  of  the 

A  still  more  novel  instance  of  anticipating  action  by  the 
legislature  was  the  devise  by  Cloister  Hunnicutt,  of  Sussex 
County,  of  six  slaves  to  the  Monthly  Meeting  of  the  Society 
of  Friends,  to  be  manumitted  by  such  members  as  the  meet 
ing  should  appoint.  In  passing  upon  the  validity  of  this 
will,  recorded  two  years  prior  to  the  act  of  1782  permitting 
manumission,  the  supreme  court  said :  "  He  knew  the  exist 
ing  laws  forbade  it  and  that  his  society  had  been  anxiously 
endeavoring  to  procure  an  enabling  statute  for  that  purpose 
from  the  legislature;  which  was  generally  believed  would 
shortly  be  obtained."  Counsel,  in  defending  the  legality  of 
the  will,  observed  that  the  testator  must  have  known  "  that 
a  sentiment  existed  in  the  country  very  favorable  to  the  pas 
sage  of  such  a  law."57 

In  the  forefront  of  the  movement  which  culminated  in 
the  repeal  of  restrictions  upon  the  right  of  private  manu 
mission  were  two  religious  sects — the  Quakers  and  the 
Methodists.  Many  Quakers  in  Virginia  had  been  owners 
of  slaves  up  to  the  period  of  the  Revolutionary  War,  but 
they  were  among  the  first  to  recognize  and  admit  fully  the 
humanity  of  the  negro  and  the  injustice  of  depriving  him 
of  his  right  to  freedom.  Committees  of  their  meetings  were 
appointed  "to  labor  with  such  Friends  as  still  hold  their 
negroes  in  bondage,  to  convince  them,  if  possible,  of  the 

55  Hening,  vol.  xii,  p.  612;  MS.  Petitions,  Henrico  County,  1886, 
A  8990.  By  special  acts  of  legislation  in  1787  both  the  above-men 
tioned  wills  were  made  effective  (Journal  of  the  House  of  Dele 
gates,  1786,  p.  23.  Cited  as  House  Journal). 

"2  Call,  270;  Brock,  p.  17. 

"Charles  et  al.  v.  Hunnicutt,  5  Call,  311,  312. 

58  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

evil  of  that  practice  and  inconsistency  with  our  Christian 
profession."58  The  few  members  who  clung  to  their  slaves 
did  so  at  the  price  of  being  disowned  by  their  society.59 
The  growing  body  of  Methodists  likewise  showed  them 
selves  the  friends  of  the  negro,  and  many  of  them,  like  the 
Quakers,  refused  to  own  or  sell  slaves.  In  the  Methodist 
annual  conference  held  at  Baltimore  in  1780  this  question 
was  put  to  the  conference :  "  Does  this  Conference  acknowl 
edge  that  slavery  is  contrary  to  the  laws  of  God,  man,  and 
nature,  and  hurtful  to  society;  contrary  to  the  dictates  of 
conscience  and  pure  religion,  and  doing  that  which  we  would 
not  others  should  do  to  us  and  ours?  Do  we  pass  our  dis 
approbation  on  all  our  friends  who  keep  slaves,  and  advise 
their  freedom?"  The  answer  was,  "  Yes."60  Philip  Gatch, 
a  slave-owning  Methodist  of  Powhatan  County,  was  one 
among  many  of  these  people  who  acted  according  to  the 
advice  of  their  society  in  a  very  short  time  after  it  was 
given.61  The  Methodists  as  well  as  the  Friends  exerted  an 
influence  upon  legislation  by  memorials  to  the  legislature 
reiterating  their  opposition  to  slavery.62 

Probably  these  two  societies,  the  Friends  and  the  Metho 
dists,  deserve  to  rank  first  in  the  work  of  advancing  the 
cause  of  manumission  from  genuine  altruistic  motives. 
They  sought  to  make  manumission  lawful  because  they  were 
willing  to  take  the  negro  within  the  scope  of  the  doctrine 
of  equal  rights  and  natural  freedom.  But  the  Baptists 
and  Presbyterians  were  then  striving  to  gain  for  the  whites 
freedom  of  religion  and  freedom  of  conscience;  hence 
they  too  were  consistent  advocates  of  the  measure  by 

68  MS.  Minutes  of  Fairfax  Monthly  Meeting,  1776-1802;  MS. 
Minutes  of  Warrenton  and  Fairfax  Quarterly  Meeting,  1776-1787, 
passim;  S.  B.  Weeks,  Southern  Quakers  and  Slavery,  p.  211  et  seq. 

09  MS.  Minutes  of  Hopewell  Monthly  Meeting,  1777-1791,  p.  184; 
MS.  Minutes  of  Fairfax  Monthly  Meeting,  1777-1791,  pp.  42,  65. 

60  W.  W.  Bennett,  Memorials  of  Methodism  in  Virginia,  p.   131. 

*  Ibid. 

62  Letters  and  Other  Writings  of  James  Madison,  vol.  iii,  p.  124 ; 
cited  as  Madison's  Writings.  See  Weeks  on  the  prominence  of 
Quakers  and  Methodists  among  the  eighty  members  of  the  Vir 
ginia  Abolition  Society  in  1791  (Southern  Quakers  and  Slavery, 
P-  213). 


which  restraints  were  to  be  removed  from  the  will  and  con 
science  of  a  slave-owner  who  felt  moved  to  set  free  his 
slave  for  conscience'  sake.  Furthermore,  without  regard  to 
church  affiliations,  there  was  a  class  of  young  men  who,  ac 
cording  to  a  distinguished  French  traveller,  "were  almost 
all  educated  in  principles  of  sound  philosophy  and  regarded 
nothing  but  justice  and  humanity."63  To  this  younger  set 
of  men,  who  represented  the  liberal  ideas  of  the  English  and 
French  thought  of  that  time,  and  prominent  among  whom 
was  Thomas  Jefferson,  is  due  much  of  the  credit  for  the 
support  in  the  legislature  of  the  proposition  which  was  en 
acted  into  law  in  May,  1782,  bearing  the  title,  "An  act  to 
authorize  the  manumission  of  slaves."64 

To  a  certain  class  of  those  persons  who  demanded  a  re 
vision  of  the  laws  respecting  the  negroes  the  law  of  1782 
was  only  a  partial  victory.  The  object  sought  by  persons 
of  that  class  was  the  freedom  of  the  negro  and  not  the 
greater  freedom  of  the  white  master ;  hence  they  were  now* 
as  ready  to  support  a  plan  of  general  emancipation  as  they 
had  been  to  promote  the  progress  of  manumission.  In  1785 
a  petition  was  presented  to  the  legislature  asserting  it  to 
be  the  firm  conviction  of  the  petitioners  that  slavery  is  con 
trary  to  the  principles  of  the  Christian  religion  and  an  ex 
press  violation  of  the  principles  upon  which  our  government 
was  founded.65  Several  months  later  seventeen  citizens  of 
Frederick  County  petitioned  for  the  gradual  emancipation 

63  F.  J.  Chastellux,  Travels  in  North  America  in  the  years  1780-82, 
vol.  ii,  pp.  196,  197. 

M  "  Be  it  enacted  That  it  shall  hereafter  be  lawful  for  any  person 
by  his  or  her  last  will  and  testament,  or  by  any  other  instrument  in 
writing,  under  his  or  her  hand  and  seal  attested  and  proved  in  the 
county  court  by  two  witnesses,  or  acknowledged  by  the  party  in 
the  court  of  the  county  where  he  or  she  resides,  to  emancipate  and 
set  free  his  or  her  slaves,  or  any  of  them,  who  shall  thereupon  .  .  . 
enjoy  as  full  freedom  as  if  they  had  been  particularly  named  and 
freed  by  this  act"  (Hening,  vol.  xi,  pp.  39,  40). 

65  House  Journal,  November  8,  1785,  p.  27.     This  petition  urged 
not  only  emancipation,  but  also  "  the  strengthening  of  our  govern 
ment  by  attaching  to  its  support  by  ties  of  interest  and  gratitude " 
the  freedmen.    Apparently,  enfranchisement  of  the  freedmen  was  v< 
within  its  scope. 

6O  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

of  slaves,  reasoning  that  "  liberty  is  the  birthright  of  man 
kind,  the  right  of  every  rational  creature."66 

These  propositions  met  with  very  strong  protest  from 
those  who  had  opposed  the  passage  of  the  manumission  act 
and  who  were  already  preparing  to  make  a  fight  for  its  re 
peal.  Counter  petitions  and  remonstrances  were  received 
by  the  Assembly  as  soon  as  were  the  petitions.67  In  addi 
tion  to  remonstrating  against  proposed  plans  of  emancipa 
tion,  the  petitioners  urged  the  repeal  of  the  law  authorizing 

In  the  issue  thus  joined  the  balance  of  power  was  held 
by  the  class  of  persons  who  had  supported  the  passage  of 
the  law  of  1782  with  the  view  to  removing  restraints  upon 
the  will  of  the  master  for  the  sake  of  the  master's  freedom. 
Neither  the  proposition  for  emancipation  nor  the  project 
for  the  repeal  of  the  law  authorizing  manumission  could 
command  their  support.  Persons  of  this  class  were  as 
much  opposed  to  hampering  the  property  rights  of  the  mas 
ter  by  denying  to  him  the  right  to  dispose  of  slaves  at  will 
as  they  were  to  compelling  him  to  relinquish  his  title  to 
slaves.  The  emancipation  schemes  and  the  projects  to  pro 
hibit  again  the  manumission  of  slaves  failed  of  enactment. 
Hence,  on  compromise  ground  between  two  extreme  views, 
the  act  authorizing  manumission  remained  on  the  statute 
book,  and  represented  the  policy  to  which  the  State  re 
mained  for  many  years  firmly  committed.69 

66  MS.    Petitions,    Frederick   County,    1786,   A  6340.     Madison,    in 
a  letter  to  Jefferson  of  January  22,  1786,  says  that  "  several  petitions 
(from  Methodists,  chiefly)  appeared  in  favor  of  a  gradual  abolition 
of  slavery"   (Madison's  Writings,  vol.  i,  p.  217). 

67  MS.  Petitions,  Brunswick  County,  1785,  A  2901 ;  House  Journal, 
1785,  p.  30;  Madison  to  Washington,  November  n,  1785,  in  Madi 
son's  Writings,  vol.  i,  p.  200. 

68  Petitions  of  this  kind  were  received  by  the  legislature  from  the 
counties  of  Brunswick,  Amelia,  Mecklenburg,  Halifax,  and  Pittsyl- 
vania    (House   Journal,    1785,    p.    91;    MS.    Petitions,    A  2901).     A 
petition  from  Hanover  County,  signed  by  one  hundred  and  forty- 
four  citizens,  and  one  from  Henrico,  signed  by  one  hundred  and 
twenty  citizens,  praying  for  the  repeal  of  the  act  of  1/82,  were  sent 
to  the  legislature  in  1784  (MS.  Petitions,  Hanover  County,  A  8124; 
Henrico  County,  A  8971). 

60  House  Journal,  1785,  p.  91.  The  vote  against  repeal  was  53  to 


The  removal  in  1782  of  restraints  upon  manumission  was 
like  the  sudden  destruction  of  a  dam  before  the  increasing 
impetus  of  a  swollen  stream.  The  free  negro  population  in 
the  State  at  that  time — probably  less  than  3000,  but  the 
product  of  a  century  and  a  quarter's  growth — was  more  than 
doubled  in  the  space  of  two  years.  Instances  of  manumis 
sion,  often  of  large  numbers  of  slaves,  became  frequent.70 
In  eight  years  after  the  act  became  effective  the  number  of 
free  colored  persons  rose  from  less  than  3000  to  I2,866.71 
By  1800  the  number  had  increased  to  20,000;  and  according 
to  the  census  of  1810  it  was  over  30,000. 

The  principles  of  natural  rights  and  the  consent  of  the 
governed  had  only  a  year  before  the  passage  of  the  enabling 
act  received  a  triumph  in  the  victory  of  the  American  and 
French  armies  at  Yorktown,  and  many  a  slave-master  now 
seized  the  opportunity  to  follow  those  principles  to  their 
logical  conclusion  by  manumitting  every  slave  in  his  pos 
session,  whether  one  or  one  hundred.  In  1782  William 
Binford  and  Robert  Pleasants,  of  Henrico  County,  manu 
mitted  respectively  twelve  and  ninety  slaves.  Most  of  them 
were  of  an  age  to  be  very  valuable,  but  young  and  old  were 
set  free  because  of  a  "conviction  and  persuasion  that  free 
dom  is  a  natural  right."72  Joseph  Hill,  of  Isle  of  Wight 
County,  gave  expression  to  his  views  in  his  will  of  March 
6,  1783,  as  follows:  "I  ...  after  full  and  deliberate  con 
sideration,  and  agreeable  to  our  Bill  of  Rights,  am  fully  per 
suaded  that  freedom  is  the  natural  life  of  all  mankind  .  .  . 

70  Cf .  Brock,  p.  19. 

71  In  1835  William  Jay  wrote  as  follows :  "  In  1782,  Virginia  re 
pealed  her  restraining  law  and  in  nine  years  10,000  slaves  were  man 
umitted  "  (Slavery  in  America,  p.  101).    In  1796  St.  George  Tucker 
called  attention  to  the  fact  that  "  there  are  more  free  negroes  and 
mulattoes  in  Virginia  alone  than  are  to  be  found  in  the  four  New 
England    states    and    Vermont    in    addition    to    them.     The    prog 
ress  of  emancipation  in  this  state  is,  therefore,  much  greater  than 
our  Eastern  brethren  may  at  first  suppose.     There  are  only  1087  free 
negroes  and  mulattoes  in  the  states  of  New  York,  New  Jersey,  and 
Pennsylvania  more  than  in  Virginia"    (A  Dissertation  on  Slavery, 
p.  72  n.). 

72  MS.  Deeds  of  Henrico  County,  no.  I,  p.  42. 

62  THE  FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

do  hereby  emancipate  and  set  free  all  and  every  of  the 
above-named  slaves."73 

Every  negro  who  fought  or  served  as  a  free  man  in  the 
late  war  was  given  in  1783  a  legislative  pledge  of  the  utmost 
protection  of  the  State  in  the  enjoyment  of  the  freedom  he 
had  helped  to  gain  ;74  and  a  slave  who  could  prove  any  hon 
orable  service  rendered  by  him  to  the  American  cause  was 
freed  by  special  act  and  at  the  expense  of  the  State.75  Aber 
deen,  a  slave  who  had  helped  forward  the  cause  of  liberty 
"by  his  long  and  meritorious  service  in  the  lead  mines,"76 
and  "  Caesar,  who  entered  very  early  into  the  service  of  his 
country  and  continued  to  pilot  the  armed  vessels  of  the  state 
during  the  late  War,"77  were  set  free  at  public  expense. 
Slave-owning  Quakers  who  were  reluctant  to  manumit  their 
slaves  were  urged  by  their  society  to  extinguish  their  titles 
in  human  chattels.78  The  labor  supply  being  abundant  from 
1782  to  the  end  of  the  century,  mercenary  masters  were 

73  MS.  Deeds  of  Isle  of  Wight  County,  no.  15,  p.  122.  Quoted 
from  B.  B.  Munford,  Virginia's  Attitude  toward  Slavery  and  Se 
cession,  p.  105.  $  In  1797  Richard  Randolph,  jr.,  of  Prince  Edward 
County,  manumitted  his  slaves  "in  whom  my  countrymen  by  their 
iniquitous  laws  in  contradiction  of  their  own  Declaration  of  Rights 
have  vested  me  with  absolute  property"  (MS.  Wills  of  Prince  Ed 
ward  County,  1797;  H.  A.  Garland,  The  Life  of  John  Randolph,  of 
Roanoke,  vol.  i,  p.  67). 

7*  Hening,  vol.  xi,  p.  308 ;  St.  G.  Tucker,  A  Dissertation  on  Slavery, 
p.  20.  Compare  below,  pp.  no,  in,  in  n. 

75  William  Boush  and  Jack  Knight,  and  Saul,  "  who  avoided  the 
rocks  upon  which  so  many  negroes  wrecked  when  the  trumpet  call 
pronounced  his  freedom  if  he  would  turn  upon  his  master,"  were 
all   set   at   liberty   by   the    State   because  of    their    services    in    the 
cause  of  liberty  (Hening,  vol.  xiii,  pp.  103,  619).     The  slave  James, 
a  spy  or  secret  agent  of  Marquis  Lafayette  in  his  Virginia  cam 
paign,  received  favorable  consideration  by  the  Assembly  (MS.  Peti 
tions,  New  Kent  County,  1786,  64051). 

76  Hening,  vol.  xi,  p.  309  (1783). 
"Ibid.,  vol.  xiii,  p.  102  (1789). 

78  In  1788  it  was  inserted  in  the  Friends'  Discipline  "  that  none 
amongst  us  be  concerned  in  importing,  buying,  selling,  holding,  or 
overseeing  slaves,  and  that  all  bear  a  faithful  testimony  against  the 
practice."  In  1785  the  following  query  was  put  before  the  dele 
gates  to  the  Upper  Quarterly  Meeting :  "  Do  any  Friends  hold  slaves 
and  do  all  bear  a  faithful  testimony  against  the  practice?"  In  1796 
it  was  reported  at  a  meeting  that  there  was  no  longer  complaint  of 
Friends'  holding  slaves  when  they  could  be  lawfully  liberated 
(Weeks,  Southern  Quakers  and  Slavery,  pp.  212,  214). 


often  easily  induced  by  the  slaves  themselves,  or  by  a  phil 
anthropic  person  in  behalf  of  the  slaves,  to  grant  deeds  of 
manumission  in  consideration  of  a  money  payment.  This 
period  from  1782  to  1806  was  the  time  when  manumission 
was  most  popular  in  Virginia,  and  is  unique  in  the  history 
of  slavery  in  the  State  as  being  the  only  period  when  manu 
mission  went  on  at  a  rapid  rate  without  legal  restraint. 

Public  opinion,  however,  was  by  no  means  unanimous  as 
to  the  wisdom  of  manumission  or  as  to  the  expediency  of 
permitting  the  practice  to  go  on  without  some  legal  restric 
tion.  Very  soon  after  the  act  of  1782  took  effect,  lessons 
learned  from  experience  with  a  free  negro  element  began 
to  cast  a  tremendous  weight  in  the  balances  on  the  side  of 
the  reactionaries,  who  lost  no  opportunity  to  point  out  the 
evil  results  of  manumission.79  Almost  a  hundred  years  pre 
viously,  manumission  was  for  the  first  time  restricted  by 
law,  because  free  negroes  were  unproductive  and  because 
they  incited  slaves  to  steal  and  to  rebel.80  Throughout  the 
long  period  which  intervened  between  that  experience  and 
the  close  of  the  Revolutionary  War  the  free  negro  was 
almost  a  negligible  social  factor,  and  afforded  little  reminder 
of  the  real  character  of  a  large  and  growing  free  negro  ele- 
ment  in  a  population  constituted  as  was  that  of  Virginia. 
With  the  old  restraints  upon  manumission  removed,  two 
years  trial  of  the  freedmen  was  sufficient  to  convince  many 
persons  that  "  free  negroes  are  agents,  factors  and  carriers 
to  the  neighboring  towns  for  slaves,  of  property  by  them 
stolen  from  their  masters  and  others."81  Three  years  later 
the  opponents  of  manumission  declared  it  to  be  "  a  very 

"MS.  Petitions,  1784,  A  8124;  A  8971;  A  2901.  A  petition  from 
Accomac  County,  in  June,  1782,  signed  by  forty-five  persons,  assigned 
four  reasons  why  the  slaves  of  persons  who  had  made  their  wills 
before  1782  should  not  be  set  free:  (i)  Manumitted  slaves  had 
helped  unmanumitted  slaves  to  join  the  British;  (2)  It  would 
depreciate  the  value  of  slave  property  and  thus  lessen  revenue;  (3) 
Manumission  should  be  preserved  solely  as  a  means  of  rewarding 
slaves  for  good  conduct;  (4)  Free  negroes  easily  become  charges 
upon  the  public  (MS.  Petitions,  Accomac  County,  1785,  A  11). 

80  See  above,  p.  51. 

81  MS.  Petitions,  Hanover  County,  1784,  A  8124;  Henrico  County, 
1784,  A  8971. 

64  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

great  and  growing  evil,"  and,  failing  to  get  a  prohibitive 
measure  passed,  they  proposed  the  plan  of  compelling  every 
negro  to  leave  the  State  within  twelve  months  after  the  date 
of  his  manumission.82  The  plan  was  not  adopted,  but  free 
negroes  were  forbidden  by  an  act  of  1793  to  come  into  the 

Much  difficulty  was  soon  experienced  in  discriminating 
between  slaves  fraudulently  passing  as  free  negroes  and 
negroes  actually  free.  The  right  of  free  negroes  to  go  and 
come  and  to  pass  to  and  fro  in  a  community  without  hin 
drance  or  question  proved  to  be  a  cloak  behind  which  run 
away  slaves  escaped  detection.84  An  attempt  to  regulate 
the  evil  by  strict  registration  requirements  only  augmented 
it  ;85  free  negroes  treated  their  registers  or  "  free  papers  " 
as  if  they  were  transferable,  and  escaping  slaves  used  them 
to  conceal  their  identity.86  Enterprising  slaves  even  forged 
such  papers,  or  secured  them  from  white  persons  who  made 
a  practice  of  forging  freedom  certificates  and  supplying 
slaves  with  the  means  of  escape.87 

All  these  things  had  been  operating  to  effect  a  change  in 
sentiment  adverse  to  manumission  when  an  attempted  insur 
rection  of  slaves  in  Richmond,  led  by  a  slave  named 

82  K.  M.  Rowland,  The  Life  of  George  Mason,  vol.  ii,  p.  201.    For 
failure  to  leave  they  were  to  be  sold  at  public  auction.     The  propo 
sition   followed  closely  the  law  passed  in   1691.     Unlike  that  law, 
however,  it  contained  no  provision  for  requiring  the  master  to  pay 
the  expenses  of  transporting  the  manumitted  slave. 

83  Hening,  vol.  xiv,  p.  239.    Any  citizen  might  arrest  a  violator 
of  this  law  and  take  him  before  a  justice,  who  was  empowered  "to 
remove  every  such  free  negro  or  mulatto  .  .  .  into  that  state  or  island 
from  whence  it  shall  appear  he  or  she  last  came." 

84  Virginia   Gazette   and   the  American   Advertizer,  July  5,    I7&3- 
"  Reward :    Ran   away   from   the   subscriber   a   mulatto   man    slave 
named  Jack  a  crafty  fellow  ...  he  has  a  forged  pass  to  pass  for  a 
free  man"  (ibid.,  October  16,  1784). 

85  Hening,  vol.  xiv,  p.  238. 

86  Ibid.,  vol.  xv,  p.  78. 

87  Ibid.,  vol.  xiv,  p.  365.     Any  person  "  aiding  or  abetting  in  forgery 
of  writings  whereby  a  slave  or  servant  of  another  may  go  free" 
was  liable  to  a  penalty  of  two  hundred  dollars  and  one  year's  im 
prisonment.     Ishmael    Lawrence    was    indicted,    found    guilty,    and 
fined  only  ten  dollars  by  a  Henrico  County  court  in  1795  for  "  forg 
ing  uttering  and  distributing  freedom  papers  or  Deeds  of  emancipa 
tion  to  runaway  slaves"   (MS.  Orders,  no.  6,  p.  514)- 


Gabriel,  set  the  white  people  of  the  State  to  thinking  on  the 
dangers  from  a  partial  subjection  of  a  servile  race.88  While 
the  evidence  showed  but  little  direct  or  criminal  connection 
of  free  negroes  with  the  plot,89  it  revealed  the  fact  that  bar- 
bacues,  fish- feasts,  and  "preachings,"  at  which  the  free 
negro  was  known  to  be  a  prominent  figure,  had  furnished 
the  occasion  for  arranging  the  plot.  This  fact  and  testi 
mony  that  Methodists,  Quakers,  and  Frenchmen,  all  of 
whom  had  been  favorable  to  manumission,  were  to  be 
spared  by  the  insurgents90  were  convincing  that  the  mere 
presence  in  a  community  of  a  manumitted  negro  was  a 
source  of  danger. 

On  December  31,  1800,  the  year  of  the  Gabriel  insurrec 
tion,  the  legislature,  behind  closed  doors,  passed  the  follow 
ing  resolution:  "That  the  Governor  be  requested  to  corre 
spond  with  the  president  of  the  United  States  on  the  subject 
of  purchasing  lands  without  the  limits  of  the  United  States 
whither  persons  obnoxious  to  the  laws  or  dangerous  to  the 
peace  of  society  may  be  removed."91 

The  obnoxious  and  dangerous  persons  described  here 
were  not  criminals  or  seditious  aliens,  as  might  be  supposed, 
but  "  free  negroes  and  mulattoes  including  those  who  may 
hereafter  be  emancipated/'92  At  the  time  this  resolution 
was  passed  there  were  upwards  of  twenty  thousand  persons 
in  Virginia  included  within  its  scope;  hence  persons  who 
viewed  the  growth  of  the  free  negro  population  with  alarm 

88  This  attempt  to  massacre  the  white  inhabitants  of  Richmond 
was  called  the  Gabriel  Insurrection.  See  The  Richmond  Recorder, 
April  6,  9,  1803;  R.  R.  Howison,  A  History  of  Virginia,  vol.  ii,  pp. 
390,  391- 

'"A  man  named  Samuel  Bird,  a  free  mulatto  of  Hanover  town 
was  arrested  on  suspicion  of  being  concerned  in  the  conspiracy  of 
the  negroes;  he  ...  was  finally  discharged  for  want  of  evidence, 
it  being  decided  that  people  of  his  own  color,  in  slavery,  could  not 
give  testimony  against  him.  His  son,  a  slave,  was  condemned  and 
executed  yesterday"  (Writings  of  James  Monroe,  ed.  by  Hamilton, 
vol.  iii,  p.  215). 

90  Richmond  Recorder,  April  9,  1803. 

91  Documents  of  the  House  of  Delegates,  no.  10,  1847-1848,  cited 
as  House  Documents;  A.  Alexander,  A  History  of  Colonization  on 
the  Western  Coast  of  Africa,  p.  63. 

93  Writings  of  Monroe,  vol.  iii,  p.  20. 


66  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

began  to  realize  that  restrictions  upon  the  manumission  of 
slaves  could  not  now  afford  complete  relief  from  the  menace 
of  the  free  negro.  The  resolution  of  the  legislature  was  the 
starting-point  of  the  colonization  movement  in  Virginia  and, 
in  fact,  in  the  United  States.  Governor  Monroe,  acting 
upon  the  request  made  of  him  by  the  resolution,  promptly 
communicated  with  President  Jefferson,  and  in  a  lengthy 
correspondence  which  followed,  opinions  were  given  and 
received  of  the  comparative  value  of  the  southwestern  fron 
tier,  the  West  Indies,  and  Africa  as  a  place  for  a  colony  of 
these  persons  who  were  obnoxious  to  the  laws  and  the 

While  colonization  ideas  were  being  born,  new  and  un 
usually  stringent  measures  for  keeping  watch  over  and  con 
trolling  the  actions  of  free  negroes  were  enacted.  They 
were  forbidden  to  move  from  one  county  or  town  to  an 
other  on  penalty  of  being  arrested  and  imprisoned  as  va 
grants.9*  The  laws  concerning  the  migration  of  free  negroes 
into  the  Commonwealth  were  declared  defective  and  in  need 
of  revision,  and  more  exacting  registration  requirements 
were  enacted.95  The  laws  of  evidence  were  changed  so  that 
a  slave  was  a  good  witness  in  pleas  of  the  Commonwealth 
against  a  free  negro.96  A  strong  public  guard  to  be  sta 
tioned  at  Richmond  was  considered  by  the  Assembly  to  be 
expedient  for  the  public  safety  "in  the  present  crisis  of 

The  prospect  of  removing  the  free  negroes  was,  however, 
not  yet  deemed  so  promising  as  to  cause  persons  to  lose 
sight  of  the  necessity  of  reducing  the  enormous  rate  of  in 
crease  in  the  free  negro  population  by  closing  the  avenue 
of  escape  from  slavery  to  freedom.  In  the  legislative  ses 
sion  of  1804-1805  the  state  of  public  opinion  upon  the  sub- 

w  Writings  of  Monroe,  vol.  iii,  pp.  201-217,  292;  The  Writings  of 
Thomas  Jefferson,  ed.  by  Ford,  vol.  iv,  pp.  410-422;  House  Docu 
ments,  no.  10,  1847-1848. 

MHening,  vol.  xv,  p.  301  (1801). 

86  Ibid.,  vol.  xv,  p.  301. 

86  Ibid.,  vol.  xv,  p.  300. 

"  Ibid.,  vol.  xv,  pp.  295,  296 ;  Howison,  vol.  ii,  pp.  388-393 ;  House 
Journal,  1800-1809,  pp.  47,  48. 



ject  of  manumission  was  reflected  in  a  vigorous  debate  on 
the  floor  of  the  House  on  the  merits  of  a  proposition  to 
abolish  the  right  of  private  manumission  altogether.98  The 
speakers  who  favored  a  restriction  of  the  privilege  seemed 
to  recognize  the  difficult  task  before  them  of  overcoming  a 
strong  presumption  against  legislative  interference  with  anj) 
individual  right  enjoyed  since  the  close  of  the  Revolution. 
"  It  is  not  the  natural  rights  of  individuals,"  they  asserted, 
"  to  dispose  of  his  own  property  in  every  case.  ...  It  is  a 
moral  maxim  that  no  man  can  appropriate  his  property  to 
any  purposes  which  may  injure  the  interest  of  others.  .  .  . 
Whoever  emancipates  a  slave  may  be  inflicting  the  deadliest 
injury  upon  his  neighbor.  He  may  be  furnishing  some  ac 
tive  chieftain  of  a  formidable  conspiracy."  Vivid  illustra 
tion  of  and  support  for  the  argument  were  freely  taken  from 
the  recent  insurrections  in  Santo  Domingo  as  well  as  from 
those  in  the  State."  An  additional  "  power  of  combining," 
it  was  said,  was  placed  in  the  hands  of  slaves  by  giving  to 
them  the  "  right  of  locomotion."  "  What  should  we  say  of 
a  man  who  having  his  mortal  foe  bound  at  his  feet  sets  him 
at  liberty  and  plants  a  stiletto  in  his  hand  ?  " 

A  second  ground  of  attack  was  occupied  by  matching 
against  the  property-rights  defense  of  manumission  an  argu 
ment  for  economizing  revenue  by  checking  a  reckless  de 
struction  of  property  in  slaves.  The  members  of  the  House 
were  asked  to  consider  the  loss  to  the  State  in  revenue  in 
curred  by  the  manumission  of  twenty  thousand  slaves  since 
1782.  A  third  argument  was  in  refutation  of  the  strongly 
entrenched  opinion  that  the  proposed  measure  would  violate 
"the  rights  of  conscience."  "What  respect  is  due,"  asked 
Smyth,  of  Wythe  County,  "to  the  conscience  of  that  man 
who,  after  having  made  all  the  use  he  could  of  his  slaves 
does  not  hesitate  to  deprive  his  wife  and  children  of  their 

98  Richmond  Enquirer,  January  15,  1805. 

"A  speaker  in  debate  before  the  House  read  portions  of  the  his 
tory  of  the  insurrection  of  Santo  Domingo  (Richmond  Enquirer, 
January  15,  1805). 

68  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

With  equal  skill  the  defenders  of  the  privilege  of  manu 
mission  matched  arguments  with  the  opposition.  They 
affirmed  that  the  loss  in  revenue  incurred  by  manumission 
was  smaller  than  would  be  the  loss  of  a  single  day  occupied 
by  the  legislature  in  considering  the  mass  of  petitions  which 
would  pour  in  upon  that  body,  as  they  poured  in  upon  the 
legislatures  before  the  act  of  1782,  should  the  restrictive 
measure  carry.  They  emphasized  also  the  fact  that  there 
was  "  a  vast  number  of  people  who  labor  under  scruples  of 
conscience  and  think  it  wrong  to  keep  their  fellow  creatures 
in  slavery.  .  .  .  These  men  consider  their  religion  as  the 
law  of  God;  and  if  we  pass  this  bill  we  shall  place  them 
between  two  contrary  and  conflicting  laws." 

Moreover,  the  proposed  measure,  they  said,  would  not 
only  be  unwise  policy,  but  would  also  be  in  violation  of  the 
constitution.  "The  first  clause  says  that  all  men  are  by 
nature  equal  and  independent.  Already  we  have  violated 
this  declaration,  but  the  present  measure  will  do  so  still 
more ;  for  .  .  .  the  last  clause  declares  that  conscience  ought 
to  be  free." 

Finally,  what  better  safeguard  against  insurrection  could 
there  be  than  the  power  in  the  hands  of  every  slave-master 
to  reward  with  freedom  his  faithful  and  loyal  slaves  ?  "  What 
reward  is  more  seductive  than  the  acquisition  of  freedom? 
.  .  .  Suppose  a  servant  knows  that  some  harm  is  to  happen 
to  his  master,  can  he  have  a  stronger  incitement  to  inform 
him  of  it  and  put  him  upon  his  guard  than  the  prospect  of 

When  the  vote  which  determined  the  fate  of  the  bill  was 
taken,  it  stood  77  against  and  70  in  favor  of  its  becoming 
law.  The  editor  of  the  Enquirer  avowed  his  disappoint 
ment  that  the  measure,  "  in  spite  of  the  imperious  policy 
which  dictated  its  adoption  was  rejected,"  and  expressed  a 
hope  "  that  some  future  Legislature  will  have  the  prudence 
to  administer  the  suitable  remedy."101 

90  Richmond  Enquirer,  January  15,  1805. 


In  the  next  annual  session  of  the  legislature  there  were 
not  lacking  those  who  shared  the  views  of  the  editor  on  the 
matter  of  reopening  the  question  in  another  effort  to  admin 
ister  a  remedy.  Fears  were  expressed  by  some  members 
that  free  and  open  discussion  was  dangerous,  but  in  spite 
of  these  warnings  a  bill  for  taking  from  masters  the  right 
to  free  slaves  was  introduced  and  debated  with  much  zest.102 
The  events  connected  with  the  Gabriel  attempt  at  insurrec 
tion  were  again  recalled  and  associated  with  the  idle  and 
vicious  habits  of  free  negroes.  A  friend  of  the  bill  declared 
that  "  these  blacks  who  are  free  obtain  a  knowledge  of  facts 
by  passing  from  place  to  place  in  society;  they  can  thus 
organize  insurrection.  ...  It  may  be  proven  that  it  is  the 
free  blacks  who  instil  into  the  slaves  ideas  hostile  to  our 
peace."103  Principles  of  policy  and  considerations  of  safety 
were  no  longer  to  be  brushed  aside  by  arguments  based 
upon  the  rights  of  man.104 

When  the  division  came,  the  bill  was  lost  by  a  vote  of  75 
to  73. 105  But  the  full  strength  of  the  party  in  favor  of  re 
stricting  manumission  was  not  shown  in  this  vote,  which 
was  a  test  only  upon  the  question  of  abolishing  the  right 
altogether.  There  was  apparent  agreement  that  drastic 
police  measures  were  necessary,  and  but  very  little  objection 
to  placing  free  negroes  under  any  surveillance  and  restric 
tion  that  seemed  to  be  necessary  for  the  safety  of  society; 
but  a  majority  was  held  intact  against  abolishing  the  right 
of  manumission  only  because  it  believed  that  the  measure 
infringed  the  rights  of  private  property  and  "  that  the  con 
science  of  a  dying  man  ought  not  to  be  deprived  of  the 
momentary  comfort  emancipation  of  his  slaves  would  pro 
duce."106  The  objectionable  features  could,  however,  be 
avoided  by  approaching  the  question  from  its  other  side, 

03  Virginia  Argus,  January  17,  1806. 

103  Ibid. 

104  A  speaker  affirmed  that  he  was  not  less  friendly  to  "  the  rights 
of  man"  than  others  who  opposed  the  bill,  but  that  he  advocated  it 
from  policy  (Virginia  Argus,  January  17,  1806). 

5  House  Journal,  1805-1806,  pp.  68,  77. 
06  Virginia  Argus,  January  17,  1806. 

7O  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

that  is,  by  leaving  unrestrained  the  will  of  the  master  and 
restraining  the  will  of  the  slave  with  an  imposition  of  such 
conditions  upon  freedmen  as  would  make  liberty  undesir 
able.  Such  a  plan  had  been  adopted  in  1691,  and  had  been 
proposed  in  1787.  The  device  met  with  the  approval  of 
this  Assembly,  and  an  act  was  passed  by  which  all  slaves 
manumitted  after  May  I,  1806,  were  required  to  leave  the 
State  within  twelve  months  from  the  time  their  freedom 
accrued,  or,  if  under  age,  from  the  time  they  reached  their 

In  1784  a  vote  taken  in  the  House  of  Delegates  showed 
that  only  one  third  of  the  members  of  that  House  were  then 
in  favor  of  the  absolute  prohibition  of  the  manumission  of 
slaves.  By  1806  this  minority  had  made  such  gains  that  an 
accession  of  only  two  votes  would  have  transformed  it  into 
a  majority.  It  is  a  significant  fact  that  when  the  opponents 
of  the  policy  of  permitting  private  manumissions  seemed  so 
near  to  victory,  almost  all  concerted  efforts  to  repeal  the  law 
of  1782  came  to  an  end.  The  law  of  1806  was  the  last  im 
portant  change  in  the  policy  of  the  State  respecting  the 
slave-owner's  right  to  free  a  slave.  The  absence  after  1806 
of  a  strong  demand  to  curb  the  power  of  a  master  to  convert 
his  slave  into  a  free  negro  was  due  chiefly  to  two  causes. 

In  the  first  place,  the  act  of  1806  prescribing  banishment 
for  any  slave  thereafter  set  free  was  regarded  as  an  indirect 
restriction  upon  the  will  of  the  master ;  hence  it  afforded  to 
those  who  had  been  urging  the  repeal  of  the  act  of  1782  a 
measure  of  satisfaction.  It  promised  to  bring  about  the 
results  which  the  opponents  of  manumission  desired  without 

07  The  act,  being  a  restriction  in  disguise  upon  manumission,  was 
included  as  section  10  in  an  act  concerning  slaves.  It  declared  that 
"  if  any  slave  hereafter  emancipated  shall  remain  within  this  Com 
monwealth  more  than  twelve  months  after  his  or  her  right  to  free 
dom  shall  have  accrued  he  or  she  shall  forfeit  all  such  right  and 
may  be  apprehended  and  sold  by  the  overseers  of  the  poor  for  any 
county  or  corporation  in  which  he  or  she  shall  be  found  for  the 
benefit  of  the  poor  of  such  county  or  corporation"  (Hening,  vol. 
xvi,  p.  252).  Section  10  was  a  Senate  amendment  to  the  act  con 
cerning  slaves,  and  was  agreed  to  by  the  House  by  a  vote  of  94  to  65 
(House  Journal,  1805-1806,  p.  77). 


a  direct  interference  with  jealously  guarded  property  rights 
and  without  hindrance  to  freedom  of  conscience.108 

In  the  second  place,  the  act  of  1806  represented  a  new 
idea — that  of  removing  free  negroes  from  the  State.  As 
the  free  negro  population  increased,  a  prohibition  upon 
manumission  was  seen  to  be  of  diminishing  importance  as 
a  means  of  coping  with  the  problem.  From  1782  to  1806 
strenuous  efforts  were  made  to  limit  the  power  of  masters 
to  recruit  the  free  negro  population  from  the  slave  class. 
After  1806  the  strength  of  the  opposition  to  the  growth  of 
the  free  colored  class  was  directed  mainly  to  removing  or 
colonizing  that  class  of  the  population.  The  question  of 
colonization,  as  we  have  seen,  assumed  an  aspect  of  im 
portance  as  a  consequence  of  a  resolution  of  the  state  leg 
islature  in  1800.  The  act  of  1806  was  the  first  actual  law 
of  a  long  succession  of  laws  enacted  with  a  view  to  realizing 
the  ideas  set  forth  in  the  House  resolutions  of  the  first 
years  of  the  century. 

A  fundamental  defect  in  the  law  of  1806  was  its  failure 
to  provide  any  definite  place  to  which  the  freed  slaves  might 
go.  As  an  immediate  consequence  of  spasmodic  attempts 
to  enforce  the  law  and  of  fears  on  the  part  of  manumitted 
slaves  that  the  law  would  be  enforced  against  them,  a  notice 
able  egress  of  negroes  took  place  from  Virginia  to  the 
Northern  States  and  to  the  States  bordering  on  Virginia  on 
all  sides.  Citizens  of  Maryland  soon  began  to  make  loud 
complaint  to  their  legislature.  "  Virginia,"  they  said,  "  has 
passed  a  law  [expelling  certain  free  negroes]  and  many  of 
her  beggarly  blacks  have  been  vomited  upon  us."109  Within 

108 "  That  Government  would  be  justly  chargeable  with  the  ex 
treme  of  despotism  that  should  attempt,  without  necessity,  to  in 
terfere  with  the  kind  and  generous  feelings  of  the  human  heart," 
asserted  a  committee  of  the  House  of  Delegates  in  its  report  in 
1829  favorable  to  the  expediency  of  continuing  the  policy  of  remov 
ing  free  negroes  and  of  permitting  masters  to  manumit  slaves 
(African  Repository  and  Colonial  Journal,  vol.  iii,  p.  54-  Cited  as 
African  Repository). 

109  MS.  Petitions  to  House  of  Delegates,  in  Maryland  Historical 
Society,  portfolio  7,  no.  28;  J.  R.  Brackett,  The  Negro  in  Maryland, 
pp.  176,  177. 

72  THE  FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

a  year  after  the  Virginia  act  was  passed  the  legislatures  of 
three  different  States— Maryland,110  Kentucky,111  and  Dela 
ware112 — had  passed  countervailing  acts  forbidding  free  ne 
groes  to  come  in  from  other  States  to  take  up  permanent 
residence.  Other  States  followed  the  lead  of  the  three 
already  named,  and  passed  laws  excluding  free  negroes  or 
imposing  upon  their  admission  such  rigid  requirements  as 
to  render  their  coming  impracticable.  Ohio,113  Indiana,114 
Illinois,115  Missouri,116  North  Carolina,117  and  Tennessee118 
had  passed  some  such  law  within  twenty-five  years  after  the 
Virginia  act  of  1806.  The  people  of  Mercer  County,  Ohio, 
refused  to  allow  John  Randolph's  three  hundred  and  eighty- 
five  negroes,  who  left  Virginia  in  compliance  with  the  laws, 
to  remain  even  for  three  days  upon  land  purchased  for  them 
in  that  county,  although  these  negroes  could  comply  with 
Ohio's  law  requiring  of  emigrant  free  negroes  bond  for 
good  behavior.119  In  no  State  was  a  cordial  welcome  held 
out  to  Virginia's  expatriated  negroes.  A  refugee  slave  was 
far  more  likely  to  meet  with  hospitality  in  the  Northern 
States  than  was  a  free  negro.120 

When  that  portion  of  the  population  of  Virginia  which 
viewed  the  residence  of  the  free  blacks  among  them  as  "  an 
intolerable  burden  "121  saw  that  the  removal  laws  were  being 

110  Laws  of  Maryland,  1806,  ch.  56;  1823,  ch.  161 ;  Brackett,  p.  176. 

111  Acts  of  Kentucky  Legislature,  1807-1808,  sec.  3;  J.  C.  Hurd, 
The  Law  of  Freedom  and  Bondage  in  the  United  States,  vol.  ii, 
pp.  15,  18;  MS.  Petitions,  Cumberland  County,  1815,  A  4728. 

112  4  Delaware  Laws,  108 ;  Hurd,  vol.  ii,  p.  77. 

113  Ohio  Sessions  Laws,  ch.  8;  Hurd,  vol.  ii,  p.  117. 

114  Hurd,  vol.  ii,  p.  130. 

115  Ibid.,  vol.  ii,  p.  135. 
118  Ibid.,  vol.  ii,  p.  170. 

117  Revised  Code  of  North  Carolina,  107,  sec.  54-58,  75-77 ;  J.  S. 
Bassett,  Slavery  in  the  State  of  North  Carolina,  in  J.  H.  U.  Studies, 
ser.  xvii,  nos.  7-8. 

118  Hurd,  vol.  ii,  p.  92.     See  also  The  Richmond  Enquirer,  Febru 
ary  19,  1832,  speech  of  Mr.  Goode. 

^  The  Liberator,  August  7,  21,  1846. 

120  "If  there  is  one  fact  established  by  steadily  accumulating  evi 
dence  it  is  that  the  free  negro  cannot  find  a  congenial  home  in  the 
United  States.     He  is  an  exotic  among  us"    (quoted  in  De  Bow's 
Commercial   Review,  vol.   xxvii,  p.   731,   from   Philadelphia  North 

121  MS.  Petitions,  Prince  William  County,  1838. 


"  frustrated  by  the  action  of  sister  states  "122  as  well  as  by 
the  inactivity  of  local  officials  in  enforcing  the  banishment 
provisions,  efforts  were  made  to  seek  a  place  beyond  the 
United  States  where  free  negroes  could  be  colonized.  On 
December  14,  1816,  a  resolution  was  adopted  in  the  House 
of  Delegates  which  strongly  urged  the  importance  of  colo 
nization,  and  requested  the  governor  to  "  correspond  with 
the  President  of  the  United  States  for  the  purpose  of  ob 
taining  a  territory  upon  the  shores  of  the  North  Pacific,  or 
some  other  place  not  within  any  of  the  States  or  territorial 
governments  of  the  United  States  to  serve  as  an  asylum  for 
such  persons  of  color  as  are  now  free  and  may  desire  the 
same  and  for  those  who  may  be  hereafter  emancipated 
within  this  Commonwealth."123  Within  a  short  while  after 
the  adoption  of  this  resolution  there  was  organized  in  Wash 
ington  the  American  Colonization  Society,  and  throughout 
the  counties  and  cities  of  Eastern  Virginia  auxiliary  organi 
zations  sprang  up.124  A  state  colonization  society  had  head 
quarters  at  Richmond  in  1831,  and  had  various  branches 
throughout  the  State.125  The  two  most  important  duties  of 
these  societies  and  their  agents  were  to  procure,  first,  funds 
for  the  transportation  of  free  negroes126  to  Africa,  and,  sec 
ondly,  free  negroes  who  were  willing  to  be  transported 

From  1820  to  1860  these  societies  were  very  active  in 
propagating  the  colonization  ideas.  In  1833  tnev  procured 
from  the  legislature  an  annual  appropriation  of  eighteen 

22  MS.  Petitions,  Dinwiddie  County,  1838,  A  5090. 

123  House  Journal,  1816-1817,  p.  90. 

124  Address   of   the   Rockbridge   Colonization    Society,   in   African 
Repository,  vol.  iii,  p.  274;  Report  of  Managers  of  the  Lynchburg 
Auxiliary  Colonization  Society,  in  ibid.,  vol.  iii,  p.  202;  Memorial  of 
the  Richmond  and  Manchester  Auxiliary  Colonization  Society,  in 
MS.  Petitions,  Henrico  County,  1825,  A  9358. 

m  Petition  of  the  Colonization  Society  of  Virginia,  in  MS.  Peti 
tions,  Henrico  County,  1831,  A  9431. 

128  African  Repository,  vol.  iii,  pp.  280,  281. 

"  Difficulty  has  been  apprehended  in  obtaining  a  sufficient  num 
ber  of  emigrants.  .  .  .  Many  of  the  free  people  are  either  ignorant 
of  the  scheme  or  prejudiced  against  it.  They  are  suspicious  of 
white  men  "  (Address  of  Rockbridge  Colonization  Society,  in  Afri 
can  Repository,  vol.  iii,  p.  279). 

74  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

I  thousand  dollars  for  five  years  to  be  used  in  colonizing  free 
negroes  in  Africa.  From  this  time  on  for  a  quarter  of  a 
century  the  state  legislature  was  committed  to  the  plan  of 
colonization  as  a  solution  of  the  free  negro  problem;  and 
although  that  plan  resulted  in  repeated  failure,  it  was  suffi 
ciently  promising  to  absorb  the  greater  part  of  the  interest 
of  nearly  all  who  wished  to  check  the  growth  of  the  free 
colored  class.128  Between  1836  and  1856,  propositions  for 
limiting  the  power  of  masters  to  manumit  their  slaves  were 
pressed  forward  with  some  energy,  but  were  uniformly  de 
feated. 12&  The  constitutional  convention  of  1850  evaded 
the  question  of  limiting  manumission  by  granting  to  the 
legislature  the  power  to  "  impose  such  restrictions  and  con 
ditions  it  shall  deem  proper  upon  the  power  of  slave-owners 
to  emancipate  their  slaves,"  a  power  which  the  legislature 
had  always  been  understood  to  have.130  The  law  of  1806 
was  reenacted  at  various  times  after  its  first  enactment,  with 
such  changes  as  were  deemed  necessary  to  improve  its 
effectiveness,  and  in  1850  it  was  embodied  in  the  new  con 
stitution  and  remained  a  part  of  the  constitutional  law  of 
the  State  till  the  overthrow  of  the  slavery  regime. 

The  adoption  in  1806  of  a  new  policy  respecting  manu- 

128  Acts,    1832-1833,   p.    14.     Large   appropriations    ($30,000)    were 
made  by  the  legislature  in  1850  and  1853  for  the  purpose  of  coloniz 
ing  the  free  colored  population  (ibid.,  1840-1850,  p.  7;  1852-1853,  p. 
58).     But  so  few  were  the  numbers  of  Virginia  negroes  actually 
colonized  in  comparison  with  the  entire  free  negro  population  of  the 
State  that  Virginia  colonization  may  be  said  to  have  been  an  abso 
lute  failure.    During  the  three  years  in  which  the  law  of  1850  was  in 
operation  only  419  free  blacks  and  slaves  were  sent  from  Virginia  to 
Africa,  and  of  the  $90,000  available  for  colonization  purposes  only 
$5410  was  used.    Prior  to  1854  only  2800  colored  persons  in  all  had 
been  sent  from  Virginia  to  Africa.    After  1853  the  annual  appro 
priation  of  $30,000  was  never  consumed  upon  the  transportation  of 
emigrants.     For  the  fiscal  year  ending  October  I,  1858,  only  $2100 
was  expended  by  the  colonization  board  and  only  42  negroes  were 
sent  out   (Message  of  Governor  Johnson,  in  House  Journal,  1853- 
1854,  p.  15;  House  Documents,  1859-1860,  no.  5,  p.  407). 

129  House  Journal,  1839,  p.  247 ;  1842-1843,  p.  28 ;  1852-1853,  p.  83 ; 
1855-1856,  pp.  112,  436;   1857-1858,  p.  262;  Journals  of  the  Senate 
of  the  Commonwealth  of  Virginia,  1857-1858,  p.  668,  cited  as  Senate 

130  Journal,  Acts  and  Proceedings  of  the  Convention  of  1850,  p. 
327;  Constitution  of  1850,  sec.  3  on  Slaves  and  Free  Negroes. 


mitted  slaves  should  be  considered  as  the  point  of  division 
between  two  stages  in  the  progress  of  manumission  in  Vir 
ginia.  The  actual  operation  of  the  law  was,  however,  only 
one  of  several  causes  of  the  decline  which  occurred  about 
that  time  in  the  frequency  of  manumissions.  First  among 
the  causes  which  resulted  in  a  decreased  disintegration  of 
slavery  early  in  the  century  was  the  growth  of  an  anti- free- 
negro  sentiment  which  acted  as  powerfully  to  determine  the 
action  of  individual  slave-owners  as  it  did  to  determine  leg 
islation.  Not  a  few  of  these  persons  were  becoming  con 
verted  to  the  opinion  expressed  in  the  editorial  columns  of 
the  Richmond  Recorder  that  "there  never  was  a  madder 
method  of  sinking  property,  a  method  more  hostile  to  the 
safety  of  society  than  the  freak  of  emancipating  negroes."131 
Even  from  the  point  of  view  of  the  slave's  welfare,  honest 
reflection  upon  the  hard  conditions — economic,  social,  and 
legal — of  free  negroes,  whether  they  remained  in  the  State 
or  attempted  to  emigrate,  caused  masters  of  benevolent  in 
tentions  to  hesitate  long  before  surrendering  a  slave  to  his 
own  care.  The  feeling  of  this  class  of  slave-owners  was 
well  expressed  by  Thomas  Jefferson  in  1814:  "Men  of  this 
color  are  by  their  habits,  rendered  as  incapable  as  children 
of  taking  care  of  themselves  and  are  promptly  extinguished 
whenever  industry  is  necessary  for  raising  the  young.  In 
the  meantime  they  are  pests  in  society  by  their  idleness  and 
the  depredations  to  which  this  leads  them."132 

In  the  second  place,  among  the  causes  of  the  decline  in 
the  frequency  of  manumissions  must  be  reckoned  the  re 
straining  effect  of  the  law  annexing  banishment  as  an 
attendant  condition.  "This  law,"  wrote  the  Powhatan 
Colonization  Society,  "has  restrained  many  masters  from 
giving  freedom  to  their  slaves  and  has  thereby  contributed 

131  Richmond  Recorder,  November  10,  1802.  This  issue  contains 
a  lengthy  and  animated  discussion  of  the  vicious  character  of  the 
free  negro  and  the  dangers  of  manumission. 

tsa  Randall,  Life  of  Jefferson,  vol.  iii,  p.  644.  Compare  also  John 
Burk's  statement  in  1804  that  "the  first  loss  to  be  sustained  by  an 
emancipation  is  not  the  greater  bar  to  this  desirable  end"  (The 
History  of  Virginia,  vol.  i,  p.  212  n.). 

76  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

to  check  the  growth  of  an  evil  already  too  great  and  formid 
able."133  Richard  Hildreth,  writing  in  1856,  asserts  that 
under  the  act  of  1782  manumissions  were  very  numerous, 
"and  but  for  the  subsequent  re-enactment  [in  1806]  of  re 
strictions  upon  it,  the  free  colored  population  of  Virginia 
might  now  exceed  the  slaves."134  A  petition  to  the  legisla 
ture  from  the  Richmond  Colonization  Society  attributed 
entirely  to  this  law  the  decline  of  four  thousand  in  the  de 
cennial  increase  in  the  free  negro  population  from  the  first 
to  the  second  decade  of  the  century.135 

The  Virginia  slaves  felt  keenly  their  dependence  upon 
those  by  whom  they  were  reared  and  for  whom  they  labored. 
Many  of  them  preferred  to  continue  as  slaves  in  their  mas 
ter's  household  rather  than  incur  the  risk  of  being  sent 
homeless  into  a  strange  land.  Lucinda,  a  negro  woman 
manumitted  about  1812  by  the  last  will  of  Mary  Mathews, 
refused  to  be  moved  to  Tennessee  with  other  negroes  set 
free  by  the  same  will,  deliberately  remaining  in  the  State 
long  enough  to  forfeit  her  freedom  and  petitioning  the  leg 
islature  to  vest  the  title  to  her  in  William  H.  Hose.136  Sam, 
a  negro  petitioner,  declared  to  the  legislature  in  1808  that 
he  preferred  slavery  to  being  forced  to  leave  his  wife  and 
family,  all  of  whom  were  slaves.137  There  were  many  slave 
owners  who  considered  the  question  of  manumission  solely 
from  the  standpoint  of  the  welfare  of  their  slaves,  and  who 
were  therefore  temporarily  or  permanently  prevented  from 
conferring  upon  them  a  freedom  which  would  deprive  them 
of  their  only  hope  of  a  lawful  support.  John  Randolph  of 
Roanoke,  writing  in  his  will  in  1819  concerning  his  slaves, 
said,  "  It  has  a  long  time  been  a  matter  of  deepest  regret  to 
me  that  .  .  .  the  obstacles  thrown  in  the  way  by  the  laws 

133  Memorial  to  Virginia  Legislature,  in  MS.  Petitions,  Powhatan 
County,  182(5?),  uncatalogued. 

34  The  History  of  the  United  States,  vol.  iii,  p.  392. 
135  MS.  Petitions,  Henrico  County,  1825,  A  9358. 
138  MS.  Petitions,  King  George  County,  1813,  61109. 
137  MS.  Petitions,  Essex  County,  1808,  A  5385. 


of  the  land  have  prevented  my  emancipating  them  in  my 

Furthermore,  many  free  negroes  who  owned  as  slaves  in 
a  legal  sense  their  wives  and  children  or  their  brothers,  sis 
ters,  and  other  relatives  were  after  1806  deterred  from  set 
ting  them  free  when  they  contemplated  the  prospect  of  see 
ing  their  dearest  friends  banished  from  the  State  by  an 
enforcement  against  them  of  the  limited  residence  law.  For 
example,  a  colored  man  named  Frank,  who  resided  in  Amelia 
County,  had  purchased  his  wife  and  three  children,  and, 
according  to  the  statement  of  his  white  neighbors,  had  "  al 
ways  intended  that  they  should  be  virtually  free,  although 
the  law  prohibited  him  from  making  them  actually  so  with 
out  subjecting  them  to  removal  from  the  state."139  Bowling 
Clark,  a  free  negro  of  Campbell  County,  purchased  his  wife 
a  few  years  after  the  act  of  1806  went  into  operation;  but 
both  were  declining  in  years,  and  both  preferred  the  existing 
arrangement  to  one  which  would  have  given  the  wife  free 
dom  at  the  cost  of  parting  husband  and  wife  or  of  sending 
both  from  their  home  together.140  Numerous  instances  could 
be  cited  to  show  that  the  law  annexing  banishment  as  a  con 
dition  of  manumission  exerted  a  powerful  effect  in  restrain 
ing  the  will  of  black  slave-owners.141 

The  third  of  the  causes  which  deserve  notice  here  in  con 
nection  with  the  general  decline  in  the  frequency  of  manu 
missions  in  the  nineteenth  century  is  a  noteworthy  change 
in  the  economic  aspects  of  slaveholding.  The  invention  of 

38  The  last  will  and  testament  of  John  Randolph  of  Roanoke  set 
free  about  three  hundred  and  eighty-five  slaves.  The  document  is 
printed  in  Garland,  vol.  ii,  p.  150. 

139  In  1809  Frank  died,  and  the  only  means  that  remained  of  sav 
ing  "  Patience,  the  wife,  and  Philemon,  Elizabeth  and  Henry,  the 
children  of  the  free  black  man"  from  sale  into  slavery  was  leg 
islative  intervention  by  private  act.     The  legislature  intervened  in 
this  case  because  the  purchase  by  Frank  of  his  family  took  place 
before  the  enactment  of  the  law  of  1806.     Legislative  action  was  re 
fused  in  many  similar  cases  of  later  date   (MS.  Petitions,  Amelia 
County,  1809,  A  768;  Acts,  1809-1810,  p.  54). 

140  MS.  Petitions,  Campbell  County,  1815,  A  3412. 

141  See  MS.  Petitions,  Fauquier  County,  1837,  A  5859;  and  below, 
pp.  92,  93.    The  imperfect  enforcement  of  the  act  of  1806,  a  subject 
treated  elsewhere  in  this  monograph,  did  not  relieve  negroes  of  the 
fear  of  the  consequences  following  violation  of  it. 

/8  THE   FREE    NEGRO    IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

the  cotton  gin  in  1793  made  possible  the  expansion  of  the 
cotton  industry  in  the  South.  The  result  of  this  industrial 
expansion  created  a  demand  for  slaves  to  work  in  the  cotton 
fields.  The  abolition  of  the  foreign  slave  trade  in  1808  pro 
duced  the  final  condition  for  the  rapid  growth  of  a  domestic 
slave  trade  which  eventually  resulted  in  a  rise  in  prices  of 
Virginia  slaves.  About  1790,  "when  slave  prices  reached 
the  bottom  of  a  twenty  years'  decline,"142  the  maximum  fre 
quency  of  manumissions  was  attained,  with  the  exception 
of  the  first  few  months  after  the  manumission  act  took 
effect.  Conditions  in  1794  were  such  as  to  lead  Washing 
ton  to  say  that  he  believed  that  slaves  would  be  "  found  to 
be  a  very  troublesome  species  of  property  ere  many  years 
pass  over  our  heads."143  Any  slave-owner  having  a  limited 
number  of  acres  for  tillage  might  readily  become  overstocked 
with  slaves  and  be  forced  to  the  alternative  of  manumitting 
or  selling  some  of  them.144  In  various  ways  household 
slaves  made  demands  upon  or  appeals  to  their  owners  for 
freedom.  In  competition  with  these  demands  was  the  de 
mand  of  the  slave  market.  When  the  competition  of  the 
market  was  weak,  as  it  was  in  the  last  quarter  of  the  eight 
eenth  century,  the  slave  had  a  better  opportunity  to  pur 
chase,  or  to  induce  a  friend  to  purchase,  his  freedom,  or  to 
appeal  with  success  to  the  charity  of  his  owner,  than  when 
attractive  prices  were  being  offered  to  owners  for  their  sur 
plus  property.145 

141 U.  B.  Phillips,  "  The  Economic  Cost  of  Slaveholding  in  the 
Cotton  Belt,"  in  Political  Science  Quarterly,  vol.  xx,  p.  257. 

143  Washington  to  Alexander  Spottswood,  November  23,   1794,  in 
New  York  Public  Library  Bulletin,  vol.  ii,  pp.  14,  15. 

144  Delegates  representing  slave-owning  interests  in  the  constitu 
tional  convention  of  1829-1830  feared  that  delegates  from  western 
Virginia  desired  to  see  slavery  .taxed  out  of  existence.     If  slaves 
were  to  be  taxed  more  heavily,  thought  Richard  Morris,  "  Either  the 
master   must   run   away    from   the   slaves    or   the   slave    from   the 
master."     Here  we  see  a  recognition  of  the  relation  between  the 
freeing  of  slaves  and  the  paying  character  of  slave  property  (Pro 
ceedings  and  Debates  of  the  Convention,  p.  116). 

148  In  1792  a  negro  man  living  in  King  William  County  died,  leav 
ing  a  will  which  directed  that  so  much  of  his  estate  as  was  necessary 
be  used  to  purchase  the  freedom  of  his  son,  the  property  of  Ben 
jamin  Temple.  This  illustrates  a  phase  of  manumission  directly 
affected  by  the  market  price  of  slaves  (Hening,  vol.  xiii,  p.  619). 


It  is  important,  however,  to  keep  in  mind  that  the  change 
in  economic  conditions  was  not  a  sudden  one,  and  that  it  was 
not  the  sole  cause  of  the  decline  in  the  frequency  of  manu 
missions.  John  Fiske  overrated  the  economic  phase  when  he 
wrote,  "After  the  abolition  of  the  slave-trade  in  1808  had 
increased  the  demand  for  Virginia-bred  slaves  in  the  states 
further  south  the  very  idea  of  emancipation  faded  out  of 
memory."146  This  statement  is  erroneous  both  as  to  the 
facts  and  as  to  the  inference  that  the  cause  of  the  change 
was  wholly  economic.  The  personal  and  human  element  in 
the  relations  of  the  master  and  his  slaves  so  often  overshad 
owed  the  property  relation  that  the  disposition  which  a 
master  would  make  of  his  slaves  could  not  be  foretold  by 
reference  to  economic  laws. 

The  change  in  the  economic  value  of  slaveholding  ascribed 
by  Fiske  to  the  early  part  of  the  century  was  in  fact  more 
potent  in  producing  the  second  stage  in  the  decline  of  manu 
mission,  which  began  about  1830,  than  it  was  in  ushering  in 
the  first  period  of  decline  in  the  first  decade  of  the  century. 
No  great  rise  in  slave  prices  came  about  in  Virginia  before 
1830  as  a  result  of  the  growth  of  the  cotton  industry.147  As 
a  result  of  the  decided  improvement  in  slavery  as  an  eco 
nomic  system  and  of  the  increasing  vehemence  of  attacks 
made  upon  slavery  by  abolitionists,  there  arose  soon  after 
the  great  slavery  debate  in  the  Virginia  legislature  in  1832 
a  new  school  of  slavery  apologists  whose  outspoken  de 
fenses  of  slavery  as  a  beneficial  economic  and  political  insti 
tution  represented  a  new  stage  in  the  development  of  senti 
ment  adverse  to  manumitting.  The  man  who  may  be  called 
the  founder  of  this  school  of  proslavery  writers  was  Thomas 
R.  Dew,  professor  of  history  and  metaphysics  in  William 
and  Mary  College,  who  reviewed  the  slavery  debate  of  1832 
and  wrote  an  elaborate  defense  of  slavery  entitled  "  Essay 
on  Slavery."  Other  writers  who  followed  Dew  in  defend- 

149  Old  Virginia  and  Her  Neighbors,  vol.  ii,  p.  191. 

147  W.  H.  Collins,  The  Domestic  Slave  Trade  of  the  Southern 
States,  p.  26  et  seq. ;  W.  Jay,  Miscellaneous  Writings  on  Slavery, 
pp.  266,  267. 

8O  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

ing  slavery  upon  its  merits  were  George  Fitzhugh,148  Alfred 
T.  Bledsoe,  professor  of  mathematics  in  the  University  of 
Virginia/49  Rev.  Dr.  Thornton  Stringfellow,150  and  Edmund 

The  theory  advanced  by  these  writers  was  that  the  negro 
occupied  his  true  and  proper  economic  and  political  sphere 
in  slavery,  and  that  the  correct  solution  of  the  race  problem 
was  not  a  plan  of  gradual  emancipation,  as  was  urged  by  a 
large  minority  in  the  legislature  of  1832,  but  a  reduction  and 
continued  subjection  of  the  members  of  the  black  race  to 
slavery.  This  view  differentiates  the  part  of  the  nineteenth 
century  before  1832  from  the  part  which  came  between  1832 
and  1860,  and  serves  to  show  by  contrast  how  considerable 
was  the  freedom  sentiment  in  Virginia  up  to  1832.  The 
increase  of  the  free  negro  population  during  the  decade  of 
1820-1830  was  10,474.  From  1830  to  1840  the  increase  in 
that  class  of  the  population  was  only  2500.  Prior  to  the 
Southampton  insurrection  and  the  consequent  discussion  of 
the  slavery  question,  prevailing  opinion  regarded  slavery  as 
an  evil  system  to  be  removed  as  soon  as  a  feasible  method 
could  be  devised.  It  was  hoped  that  by  manumission  the 
problem  of  drawing  off  a  certain  part  of  the  colored  class 
for  colonization  would  be  solved,  and  that  this  plan  would 
finally  remove  the  negroes  to  Africa.  A  stronger  and  more 
general  antislavery  sentiment  existed  in  Virginia  prior  to 
1832  than  some  writers  are  disposed  to  admit.  The  earnest 
ness  of  the  debate  and  the  closeness  of  the  vote  on  an 
emancipation  project  in  the  legislature  in  1832  is  wrongly 
regarded  by  Edward  Ingle152  as  a  sort  of  wild  expression  of 
fear  created  by  the  Southampton  insurrection,  and  not  as 
an  expression  of  normal  sentiment.  It  is  true  that  the  in 
surrection  furnished  the  occasion  for  the  debate  of  1832, 
but  the  antislavery  sentiments  expressed  fairly  represented 

148 "  Sociology   for  the   South,"  and  "  What  Shall  be  done  with 
the  Free  Negroes?" 
149  "  Liberty  and  Slavery." 
130  "  The  Bible  Argument." 

151  "African  Colonization  Unveiled." 

152  Southern  Sidelights,  pp.  265,  266. 


honest  views  which  had  persisted  up  to  that  time.  Anti- 
slavery  sentiments  had  been  uttered  in  the  constitutional 
convention  of  1829-1830  by  such  men  as  James  Monroe.163 
In  1821  Madison  declared  that  the  free  negroes  were  "  in 
creasing  rapidly  from  manumissions  and  from  offsprings."154 
Again  in  1826  he  wrote  to  La  Fayette  that  "manumissions 
more  than  keep  pace  with  the  outlets  provided  and  that  the 
increase  of  them  is  only  checked  by  their  [the  freedmen] 
remaining  in  the  country.155  This  obstacle  removed  and  all 
others  would  yield  to  the  emancipating  disposition."  In 
Madison's  opinion,  "the  tendency  was  favorable  to  the  cause 
of  universal  emancipation." 

In  contrast  with  this  view  expressed  by  Madison,  which 
is  representative  of  an  attitude  toward  the  slavery  question 
quite  extensively  held  before  1832,  we  may  consider  the 
opinion  of  a  pamphlet  writer  of  the  decade  of  the  fifties  as 
indicative  of  the  change  in  sentiment  since  1832.  Speak 
ing  of  the  mistaken  philanthropy  of  the  slave-owners  of  the 
period  of  the  Commonwealth  prior  to  1832,  he  declared  that 
the  soil  was  then  especially  favorable  to  the  growth  of 
manumission  sentiment.  "  For  slavery  had  come  to  be  gen 
erally  considered  as  an  economical  and  political  evil  by  a 
large  portion  of  the  intelligent  slaveholders  in  Virginia.  It 
was  not  until  after  abolition  fanaticism  of  the  Northern 
people  had  become  both  active  and  malignant,  and  that  Pro 
fessor  Dew's  excellent '  Essay  on  Slavery '  (the  first  impor 
tant  defense  of  the  system  off ered  in  modern  days)  had  been 
published  that  the  revulsion  began.  At  the  present  time, 
there  are  few  intelligent  and  well  informed  persons  in  all 
Virginia  who  do  not  deem  negro  slavery  to  be  in  every 
respect  a  beneficial  institution."156 

158  Debates  of  the  Convention,  p.  172;  Richmond  Enquirer,  Novem 
ber  5,  1829. 

54  Madison's  Writings,  vol.  iii,  p.  240. 

IM  Madison's  Writings,  vol.  iii,  pp.  275,  540.  For  petitions  signed 
by  ^  large  numbers  of  citizens  pleading,  in  1827,  in  the  interest 
of  "citizens  who  may  feel  disposed  to  emancipate  their  slaves,"  see 
MS.  Petitions,  Frederick,  Jefferson,  and  Berkeley  Counties,  1827, 
A  6495. 

158  "Calx,"  pp.  4,  5. 

82  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

From  what  has  already  been  said  it  should  appear  clear 
that  the  periods  in  the  history  of  manumission  from  1782  to 
1865  were  marked  rather  by  changes  in  sentiment  than  by 
changes  in  laws.  The  act  of  1782  authorizing  manumission 
by  the  will  or  other  instrument  of  writing  remained  in  full 
force  to  the  close  of  the  Civil  War.157  By  way  of  compar 
ing  the  three  stages  in  manumission  sentiment  under  the  act 
of  1782  it  may  with  tolerable  accuracy  be  stated  that  the 
chances  of  manumission  of  a  slave  living  in  Virginia  through 
the  generation  preceding  1800  were  about  ten  in  a  hundred; 
of  one  living  through  the  period  from  1800  to  1832,  about 
four  or  five  in  a  hundred;  and  of  one  living  after  1832, 
about  two  in  a  hundred. 

On  a  basis  of  sentiment  or  of  the  frequency  with  which 
manumissions  occurred  there  may  be  said  to  be  three  stages 
in  the  progress  of  manumissions  during  the  period  of  the 
Commonwealth,  but  from  the  standpoint  of  legal  processes 
and  regulations  of  manumission  the  period  from  1782  to 
1865  is  but  one  period. 

The  act  of  1782  imposed  upon  slave-owners  who  manu 
mitted  slaves  over  forty-five  years  of  age  the  duty  of  pro 
viding  for  their  maintenance,  in  order  that  they  might  not 
become  charges  upon  the  public.158  In  1792  a  revision  of 
the  act  of  1782  was  deemed  necessary  to  the  proper  protec 
tion  of  creditors.  A  qualifying  clause  was  appended  to  the 
provisions  of  the  original  act  which  made  any  manumitted 
slave  liable  to  be  taken  by  execution  to  satisfy  the  debts 
contracted  by  his  former  master  previous  to  the  date  of 
manumission.159  In  several  important  cases  the  supreme 

UT  It  seems  an  inexcusable  error  on  the  part  of  Henry  Wilson  that 
he  should  have  asserted  in  his  History  of  the  Rise  and  Fall  of  the 
Slave  Power  that  the  act  of  1782  remained  in  force  for  only  ten 
years,  and  that  after  its  provisions  were  repealed,  "that  source  of 
just  and  humane  individual  action  being  forcibly  stopped,  gradually 
dried  up  and  ceased  to  flow"  (vol.  i,  p.  20).  See  Code  (1849),  459 
n.,  for  a  statement  by  the  compiler  that  "  the  right  to  emancipate 
has  continued  ever  since  [1782]  ;  and  the  validity  and  effect  of  in 
struments  of  emancipation  have  been  passed  upon  in  many  cases." 

168  See  deed  executed  by  Samuel  Tinsley,  1792,  in  MS.  Deeds  of 
Henrico  County,  no.  4,  p.  212. 

159Hening,  vol.  xiv,  p.  128. 


court  of  appeals  held  that  "the  right  to  emancipate  slaves 
is  subordinate  to  the  obligation  to  pay  debts  previously  con 
tracted  by  express  will  of  the  statute."100  In  1805  certain 
negroes  set  free  by  a  deed  of  gift  from  their  owner  were,  in 
pursuance  of  a  decision  of  the  supreme  court  of  appeals, 
taken  in  execution  for  the  satisfaction  of  the  debts  of  the 
slave-owner's  wife,  notwithstanding  the  fact  that  the  ne 
groes  belonged  to  their  owner  before  he  married  the  wife 
for  whose  debts  the  negroes  were  held.161  All  other  forms 
of  property,  personal  or  real,  had  to  be  applied  to  the  pay 
ment  of  debts  before  execution  could  be  made  upon  liber 
ated  slaves;  and  if  the  amount  of  indebtedness  remaining 
could  be  paid  by  hiring  out  the  liberated  negroes  of  the  debtor, 
they  were  deprived  of  freedom  only  as  long  as  was  nec 
essary  to  raise  the  required  amount.  No  statute  of  limita 
tions  could  be  appealed  to  by  negroes  who  had  been  in  peace 
ful  possession  of  their  freedom  for  five,  ten,  or  apparently 
any  number  of  years  to  stop  an  execution  upon  them  for 
the  debts  of  their  owner  contracted  before  the  liberation.162 
Under  the  provisions  of  the  act  of  1782  and  of  every  later 
revision  of  that  act,  manumissions  could  be  made  by  last 
will  and  testament  or  by  other  instrument  of  writing  prop 
erly  attested  and  proved.  Written  instruments  of  manu 
mission  other  than  wills  were  generally  called  "  deeds  of 
manumission  "  or  "  deeds  of  emancipation."  Strictly  speak 
ing,  such  instruments  were  not  deeds,  because  they  imported 
no  transfer  of  property  from  one  to  another,  but  they  bore 
a  close  analogy  to  deeds.  Referring  to  this  analogy,  a  judge 
of  the  supreme  court  of  appeals  in  Thrift  v.  Hannah  said: 
"A  deed  is  a  writing  sealed  and  delivered.  Proof  or  ac 
knowledgment  in  court  is  to  an  instrument  of  emancipation 
what  delivery  is  to  a  deed  at  common  law."163  In  imitation 

160  Dunn  v.  Amey,  I  Leigh,  465   (1829);  Jincey  et  al.  v.  Winfield 
Administrators,  9  Grattan,  708  (1853). 

161  Woodley  v.  Abby,  5  Call,  336.     See  also  Patty  v.  Colin,  i  Hen- 
ing  and  Munford,  519  (1807). 

162  Woodley  v.  Abby,  5  Call,  336;   Patty  v.  Colin,  i  Hening  and 
Munford,  519  (1807). 

163  Thrift  v.  Hannah,  2  Leigh,  330. 

84  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

of  deeds  or  indentures  conveying  property  from  one  to 
another,  such  instruments  of  manumission  usually  stipulated 
a  pecuniary  consideration.  Even  when  the  act  of  the  master 
was  purely  an  act  of  benevolence,  it  was  the  practice  to 
stipulate  some  such  nominal  consideration  as  five  shillings,16* 
one  dollar,165  or  five  dollars.166  Deeds  of  manumission  were 
in  frequent  use  between  1782  and  1800  by  persons  of  very 
decided  antislavery  views,167  as,  for  example,  the  Quakers. 
Though  of  less  frequent  occurrence  in  the  deed-books  of 
the  nineteenth  century,  deeds  of  emancipation  were  used  by 
free  negroes  who  purchased  and  set  free  their  relatives  and 
friends,  or  by  masters  who  agreed  with  their  slaves  to  set 
them  free  upon  payment  of  a  certain  sum  of  money. 

The  most  common  type  of  deeds  of  emancipation  is  ex 
emplified  by  the  following  instrument,  taken  from  the  court 
records  of  Henrico  County: — 

To  all  whom  these  presents  may  come  know  ye,  that  I  Peter 
Hawkins  a  free  black  man  of  the  City  of  Richmond  having  pur 
chased  my  wife  Rose,  a  slave  about  twenty-two  years  of  age  and 
by  her  have  had  a  child  called  Mary  now  about  18  mo.  old,  for  the 
love  I  bear  toward  my  wife  and  child  have  thought  proper  to  eman 
cipate  them  and  for  the  further  consideration  of  five  shillings  to  me 
in  hand  paid  ...  I  emancipate  and  set  free  the  said  Rose  and  Mary 
.  .  .  and  relinquish  all  my  right  title  and  interest  and  claim  whatso 
ever  as  slaves  to  the  said  Rose  and  Mary. 

PETER  HAWKINS   (Seal)168 

From  the  standpoint  of  proslavery  men  of  the  nineteenth 
century,  manumission  by  last  will  and  testament  was  the 
method  most  likely  to  be  abused.  It  was  certainly  the 
method  which  remained  in  most  common  use  throughout 
the  entire  period  of  the  Commonwealth.  When  a  slave 
owner  recognized  that  he  was  approaching  the  end  of  life, 

64  MS.  Deeds  of  Henrico  County,  no.  2,  pp.  569,  574;  no.  6,  p.  274. 

165  Ibid.,  no.  7,  p.  205. 

166  Ibid.,  no.  7,  p.  454. 

167  Betsey  Barlow,  who  from  benevolent  motives  freed  her  slaves 
by  deed  in  1789,  gave  them  not  only  freedom  but  new  names :  "  I 
set  free  Jacob  and  Sarah  to  whom  I  give  the  names  Jacob  Holland 
and  Sarah  Marnick"    (MS.  Deeds  of  Northampton  County,   1785- 
1794,  P-  291).     Manumitted  slaves  often  assumed  the  surnames  of 
their  former  owner. 

168  MS.  Deeds  of  Henrico  County,  1800,  no.  6,  p.  78. 


he  was  likely  to  give  serious  consideration  to  his  duty  to 
his  own  slaves,  regardless  of  his  views  respecting  slavery  in 
general.  There  remained  to  him  only  one  appropriate  way 
of  acknowledging  his  debt  of  gratitude  for  the  long,  patient, 
and  faithful  service  of  the  slaves  of  his  household.  Con 
fronted  with  the  alternative  of  dying  ingrate  or  bequeathing 
to  their  servants  freedom  from  bondage,  many  masters 
chose  the  latter  course,  and  down  to  the  Civil  War  the  wills 
of  slave-owners  frequently  contained  such  a  clause  as,  "  I 
give  unto  my  negro  her  freedom  on  account  of  her  faithful 
ness  of  service."169  Giles  Fitzhugh,  a  descendant  of  a  long 
line  of  slave-owners,  freed  all  his  slaves  by  his  last  will  in 
J^SS-170  A  will  of  manumission  sometimes  represented  a 
tardy  effort  or  last  resort  to  ease  a  goaded  conscience.  John 
Randolph  of  Roanoke  wrote  in  his  last  will,  "  I  give  to  my 
slaves  their  freedom  to  which  my  conscience  tells  me  they 
are  justly  entitled."171  Edmund  Ruffin,  lamenting  in  1859 
the  abuse  of  testamentary  manumissions  by  slave-owners  of 
"  sensitive  or  feeble  minds,  or  morbidly  tender  consciences 
.  .  .  especially  of  wealthy  old  men  and  old  women,"  saw  in 
the  motives  of  such  slave-owners  a  resemblance  to  the  mo 
tives  appealed  to  by  priests  in  the  dark  ages  "  when  inducing 
rich  sinners  to  smooth  and  pay  their  future  pass  to  Heaven. 

168  MS.  Wills  of  Norfolk  County,  1836-1868,  p.  66.  The  will  of 
J.  A.  Schwartz,  of  Nottoway  County,  affords  a  striking  illustration 
of  the  way  in  which  the  reflections  of  slave-masters  in  their  last  ill 
ness  often  impelled  them  to  acknowledge  their  debt  of  gratitude  to 
their  slaves  while  theie  was  opportunity.  With  his  slaves  standing 
around  him  as  he  lay  upon  his  death-bed,  Schwartz  questioned  them 
separately  before  dictating  orally  what  was  intended  for  his  will  in 
respect  to  them. 

"  Bob,  do  you  wish  to  be  freed?  " 

"  I  am  willing  to  serve  you,  but  I  had  rather  be  freed  than  have 
another  master,"  said  Bob. 

"  He  should  be  free,"  answered  the  master. 

When  a  similar  conversation  had  taken  place  between  Frank  and 
the  dying  man  with  a  like  result,  Polly  enquired :  "  What  are  you 
going  to  do  for  poor  me?"  "Polly  and  her  children,"  said  he, 
"should  be  free"  (3  Leigh,  142). 

170  A.  Crozier,  Virginia  County  Records,  vol.  vii,  p.  no. 

171  Garland,  vol.  ii,  p.  150.     This  last  act  of  Randolph,  liberating 
about  three  hundred  and  eighty-five  slaves,  was  referred  to  by  oppo 
nents  of  testamentary  manumission  as   "  the  shocking  example  of 
John  Randolph"  (Ingle,  p.  266). 

86  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

Such  emancipations  have  been  made  in  great  amount  and  in 
many  cases,  and  not  only  by  the  unquestionably  benevolent 
and  pious  .  .  .  but  also  by  persons  whose  lives  and  actions, 
both  as  men  and  as  masters,  had  indicated  anything  but  piety, 
benevolence,  or  even  a  just  and  good  treatment  of  their 

The  last  will  and  testament  was  naturally  the  legal  instru 
ment  selected  by  a  slave-owner  of  moderate  antislavery 
views  who  wished  to  retain  the  services  of  his  negroes  during 
his  life,  but  desired  at  the  same  time  to  guarantee  them,  by 
providing  for  their  freedom  at  his  death,  against  being  sold 
with  his  estate  or  separated  from  their  homes  and  each 
other.  The  testamentary  method  served  equally  well  the 
master  who  wished  to  "  lend  "  his  slaves  to  his  heirs  for  a 
fixed  period  during  the  lifetime  of  the  heirs  or  until  the 
slaves  should  arrive  at  a  certain  age.173  "  Manumission  in 
future  "  was  the  term  applied  to  the  act  of  a  master  whose 
will  provided  for  the  freedom  of  his  slaves  at  a  specified 
time  after  his  death. 

Slave-owners  making  wills  of  manumission  in  future 
often  attempted  to  affix  conditions  to  the  possession  of  free 
dom  by  their  slaves.  A  condition  precedent  to  the  manu 
mission  was  held  by  the  courts  to  be  valid,  that  is  to  say,  a 
master  by  his  will  could  make  the  freedom  of  a  slave  depend 
upon  some  act  or  condition  of  the  slave  or  upon  some  event, 
if  such  act,  condition,  or  event  was  to  be  determined  before 
the  slave's  freedom  began.  A  condition  subsequent  was 
invalid.  If  a  master  manumitted  his  slave  upon  condition 
that  the  slave  serve  him  for  hire  or  otherwise  after  acquir 
ing  freedom  or  that  the  negro's  children  be  slaves,  the  manu- 

172  E.  Ruffin,  African  Colonization  Unveiled,  p.  9. 

173  James  Johnson,  of  Louisa  County,  made  his  will  in  1785,  be 
queathing  to  his  wife  all  his  negroes  during  her  lifetime.     After  her 
death  the  negroes  were  to  be  set  free  upon  attaining  the  age  of 
twenty-one  years  (10  Leigh,  277).    John  E.  Taylor  in  his  last  will 
said :  "  I  lend  my  slaves  Margaret,  Bridget,  Ben,  George,  John  and 
Sandy  to  my  wife  Keziah  and  my  daughter  Margaret  during  their 
natural  lives,  but  in  the  event  of  the  death  of  my  said  wife  and 
daughter,   I  do  hereby  emancipate  them  and  their  issue  forever" 
(MS.  Wills  of  Norfolk  County,  1836-1868,  p.  25). 


mission  was  valid,  but  the  conditions  stipulated  were  of  no 
effect  or  force.174  Any  effort  to  control  or  direct  the  con 
duct  of  a  negro  after  manumission  or  to  put  him  in  a  status 
intermediate  between  slavery  and  freedom  was  futile.175 
Some  wills  conditioned  the  freedom  of  slaves  upon  the 
choice  or  election  of  the  slaves  when  they  arrived  at  certain 
ages  or  when  certain  conditions  were  fulfilled.  Until  1858 
such  wills  were  treated  by  the  courts  as  valid.176  In  the 
case  of  Baily  et  al.  v.  Poindexter  the  supreme  court  of  ap 
peals,  contrary  to  the  sentiment  of  the  legal  profession,  ruled 
that  slaves  had  no  legal  capacity  even  to  choose  to  be  free, 
and  that  allowing  them  such  choice  did  not  manumit  them 
or  provide  for  their  manumission.177 

m  Minor,  vol.  i,  p.  167.  John  Fitzgerald  of  Petersburg  bequeathed 
freedom  to  a  female  slave  with  the  reservation  that  her  children 
should  be  slaves.  When  the  instrument  came  for  construction  by 
appeal  to  the  supreme  court  in  1827,  it  was  held  that  the  children 
of  the  woman  set  free  were  free  and  in  no  way  under  the  control 
of  their  mother's  former  owner  (Fulton  v.  Shaw,  4  Randall,  597). 
It  was  different  in  the  case  of  children  born  of  a  slave-woman  at 
any  time  before  she  had  a  right,  according  to  the  provisions  of 
the  will,  to  her  freedom.  Such  children  were  slaves  (Maria  et  al. 
v.  Surbough,  2  Randall,  228). 

175  A  will  recorded  in  1847,  reading  "  I  bequeath  my  negro  girl 
Eliza  to  daughter  Jimmey  after  the  decease  of  my  wife,  not  as  a 
bond  slave,  but  to  be  under  her  care  and  tuition"  was  held  to  be 
void  of  effect  even  to  manumit  the  slave  girl  (2  Grattan,  227). 

176Pleasants  v.  Pleasants,  2  Call,  319;  Elder  v  Elder's  Executor, 
4  Leigh,  252 ;  Dawson  v.  Dawson's  Executor,  10  Leigh,  602. 

177 14  Grattan,  132.  See  also  Williamson  v.  Coalter's  Executors, 
14  Grattan,  394.  Minor,  vol.  i,  p.  160. 


The  legal  status  of  free  individuals  is  involved  in  the 
usual  two-fold  relation  of  persons  to  the  state, — that  of 
receiver  of  protection  and  security  from  the  government, 
and  that  of  active  participant  in  its  affairs.  Considering 
the  status  of  the  free  negro  in  this  double  relation,  the  ques 
tion  which  first  demands  an  answer  is,  What  protection  was 
afforded  him  in  rights  of  property  and  in  the  enjoyment  of 
life  and  liberty? 

The  common-law  right  to  own  and  to  alienate  property 
was  at  an  early  date  recognized  as  belonging  to  free  negroes, 
and  it  suffered  fewer  limitations  in  their  possession  than  any 
other  of  the  rights  generally  regarded  as  fundamental  to  a 
free  status.  In  the  "  order-book  "  of  the  county  court  of 
Accomac  for  1632-1640  is  an  order  "that  Francis  the  negare 
shall  have  his  chist  wch  he  clameth  now  being  in  the  house 
of  John  Foster  in  case  there  be  noe  lawful  reason  shown  to 
the  contrary  betwine  this  and  the  next  courte  alledged."1 
Contracts  involving  the  recognition  of  full  rights  of  free 
negroes  to  personal  property  were  recorded  in  the  county 
courts  as  early  as  1645. 2  Among  the  early  Virginia  land 
patents  are  a  number  representing  grants  to  negroes  of  from 
fifty  to  five  hundred  acres  to  be  held  in  fee  simple.  The 
first  of  such  grants  made  to  a  negro  of  which  we  have  any 
record  was  one  of  two  hundred  and  fifty  acres  to  Anthony 
Johnson  of  Northampton  County  in  1651  as  "head-rights" 
on  the  importation  of  five  persons  into  the  colony.3  Other 
examples  in  this  and  other  counties  could  be  cited.4  Among 

1  Transcribed  copy  in  the  Virginia  State  Library,  p.  152. 
8  MS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1645-1651,  pp.  83, 
131;  above,  pp.  27,  28  n. 

3  MS.  Land  Patents  of  Virginia,  1643-1651,  p.  326. 
4 See  above,  p.  38. 



the  deeds  of  York  County  for  the  year  1664  is  one  convey 
ing  a  tract  of  land5  from  a  white  man  to  a  negro.  The 
county  court  of  the  same  county  held  in  1660  that  a  free 
negro  was  capable  of  receiving  property  by  bequest.6 

The  right  of  free  negroes  to  property,  personal  and  real, 
thus  amply  recognized  in  the  seventeenth  century,  was  pre 
served  by  the  courts  throughout  the  entire  period  under  re 
view.  In  the  case  of  Parks  v.  Hewlett,7  decided  in  1838, 
the  supreme  court  of  appeals  says:  "He  [the  free  negro]  is 
at  once  entitled  to  acquire  and  enjoy  property.  His  person 
is  under  the  protection  of  the  laws,  and  he  has  a  right  to 
sue  for  injuries  done  to  person  or  to  property.  He  may 
even  acquire  lands  and  hold  slaves  and  will  transmit  them 
by  inheritance  to  his  children."  In  1858,  when  the  laws  no 
longer  allowed  free  negroes  to  acquire  slaves  except  by  de 
scent,  the  courts  still  upheld  the  property  rights  of  free 
negroes  by  holding  that  when  a  bequest  of  slaves  was  made 
to  persons  in  trust  for  free  negroes,  the  slaves  must  be  sold 
or  exchanged  for  a  kind  of  property  which  free  negroes 
could  lawfully  possess,  and  that  the  proceeds  of  the  sale 
must  be  distributed  among  the  free  negroes  according  to  the 
provisions  of  the  will.8 

Free  negroes  owning  property  transferred  it  by  deed  or 
transmitted  it  by  will  just  as  did  white  persons.9  Courts  of 
record  and  probate  were  open  to  them  for  recording  legal 
evidences  of  sale  or  transfer  of  property,10  and  upon  the 

5  MS.  Court  Records  of  York  County,  1664-1672,  p.  327,  in  Vir 
ginia  State  Library. 

"  Itt  is  ordered  yt  John  Negro  servant  to  Thomas  Whitehead 
Dec'd  be  and  is  hereby  declared  Free  and  that  he  have  his  cattle 
&  other  things  belonging  to  him  delivered  (to  him)  according  to  ye 
Dec'd  Will  &  Costs"  (MS.  Court  Records  of  York  County,  1657- 
1662,  pp.  211,  217,  in  Virginia  State  Library). 

7  9  Leigh,  511. 

8 14  Grattan,  251. 

9  Hening,  vol.  xiii,  p.  619. 

10  In   1829  William  Yates,  a  free  negro,   died  leaving  a  will  by 
which  he  gave  his  "  estate  real  and  personal,"  after  payment  of  his 
debts,  to  Henry  Edloe  and  Robert  McCandlish  in  trust  for  his  wife 
Maria,  who  was  his  slave,  to  be  paid  over  to  her  as  soon  as  she 
could  be  freed  and  be  allowed  to  remain  in  the  State.     The  will  was 
admitted  to  probate,  and  an  administrator  was  appointed  to  carry 
out  its  provisions  (3  Grattan,  330). 

90  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

courts  devolved  the  duty  of  seeing  that  estates  of  intestates 
were  lawfully  administered  for  the  benefit  of  the  rightful 
heirs.  In  the  case  of  Hepburn  v.  Dundas,11  by  the  authority 
of  the  highest  court  of  the  State  the  rights  of  collateral  heirs 
to  the  estate  of  a  free  negro  who  died  intestate  and  without 
children  were  fully  asserted.  The  agency  of  the  courts, 
either  of  common  law  or  equity,  was  resorted  to  with  no 
unusual  difficulties  by  free  negroes  in  the  enforcement  of 
bequests  of  property  to  them.12 

The  inviolability  of  the  property  rights  of  free  negroes 
was  an  effective  argument  against  the  frequent  proposals 
to  remove  the  entire  free  negro  population  from  the  State. 
In  the  legislature  of  1832  General  Brodnax  affirmed  that  the 
free  negroes,  in  the  event  of  deportation,  could  easily  dis 
pose  of  their  small  holdings.  But  Marshall,  who  opposed 
forcible  deportation,  declared  that  there  are  those  "who  have 
property  which  they  must  dispose  of  before  leaving  the 
country.  Will  you  force  them  to  bring  their  property  into 
market  all  at  once  to  be  sacrificed  by  one  precipitate  sale  ?  "1S 
The  argument  prevailed  against  those  who  favored  the 
measure,  and  the  bill  was  lost. 

In  order  that  certain  individuals  might  have  time  to  dis 
pose  of  property  left  them  by  their  deceased  masters,  nu 
merous  private  acts  were  passed  by  the  legislature  granting 
them  permission  to  remain  in  the  State  contrary  to  the  law 
of  i8o6.14  In  1842  a  House  of  Delegates  bill  to  prohibit 
free  negroes  from  acquiring  real  estate  met  with  but  slight 

The  most  remarkable  property  right  possessed  by  free  ne 
groes  was  the  right  to  acquire,  own,  and  alienate  slaves. 
Indeed,  for  more  than  twenty  years  from  the  time  when 
free  negroes  first  appear  in  the  courts  there  was  no  legal 

11 13  Grattan,  219. 

12  Dunlap  v.  Harrison,  14  Grattan,  251. 

"Richmond  Enquirer,  February  14,  1832. 

"Acts,  1821-1822,  p.  85;  1828-1829,  p.  157;  1829-1830,  p.  134; 
1830-1831,  p.  306;  1832-1833,  pp.  198,  199.  The  law  of  1806  here 
referred  to  required  slaves  manumitted  after  May  I,  1806,  to  leave 
the  State  within  twelve  months.  See  above,  p.  45,  45  n. 

15  House  Journals,  1841-1842,  pp.  66,  114,  162. 


restriction  upon  their  right  to  own  indentured  white  ser 
vants.  Such  a  reversal  of  the  usual  order  may  have  been 
in  a  few  cases  actually  attempted,  for  in  1670  a  law  was 
enacted  which  declared  that  "  noe  negro  or  Indian  though 
baptized  and  enjoyned  their  own  ffreedome  shall  be  capable 
of  any  purchase  of  Christians,  but  yet  not  debarred  from 
buying  any  of  their  owne  nation."18  There  is  on  record  in 
the  Northampton  County  court-house  a  clear  case  of  the 
ownership  by  a  free  negro  of  a  negro  servant  as  early  as 


Not  before  1832  were  free  negroes  forbidden  to  own  ne 
gro  slaves.  That  this  right  was  quite  commonly  exercised, 
notably  in  the  nineteenth  century,  is  a  fact  well  supported 
by  evidence.  It  was  not  unusual  among  the  free  colored 
people  for  one  member  of  the  family  to  hold  one  or  more 
of  the  other  members  in  legal  bondage.  The  following  in 
denture  of  1795  illustrates  this  form  of  slavery: — 

Know  all  men  of  these  presents  that  I,  James  Radford  of  the 
county  of  Henrico  for  and  in  consideration  of  the  sum  of  thirty- 
three  pounds  current  money  of  Virginia  to  me  in  hand  paid  by 
George  Radford  (a  black  freeman)  of  the  city  of  Richmond  .  .  . 
hath  bargained  and  sold  unto  George  Radford  one  negro  woman 
aggy,  To  have  and  to  hold  the  said  negro  slave  aggy  unto  the  said 
George  Radford  his  heirs  and  assigns  forever. 


Equally  instructive  is  the  following  "  Deed  of  sale  of 
slaves  to  a  freeman  "  of  the  same  date : — 

Know  all  men  of  these  presence  that  I  David  A.  Jones  of  Amelia 
County  of  the  one  part  have  for  and  in  consideration  of  the  sum 
of  five  hundred  dollars  granted  unto  Frank  Gromes  a  black  man 
of  the  other  part  a  negro  woman  named  Patience  and  two  children 
by  name  Phil  &  Betsy  to  have  and  to  hold  &  to  hold  the  above 

19  Hening,  vol.  ii,  p.  280.  The  act  of  1748  concerning  servants  and 
slaves  declared  "that  no  negroe,  mulatto,  or  Indian  although  a 
Christian  or  any  Jew,  Moor,  Mohametan  or  other  infidel  shall  at  any 
time  purchase  any  Christian  servants  nor  any  other  except  their 
own  complexion,  or  such  as  by  this  act  are  declared  slaves:  and 
if  any  of  the  persons  aforesaid  shall  nevertheless  presume  to  pur 
chase  a  Christian  white  servant,  such  servant  shall  immediately  be 
come  free,  and  be  held  deemed  and  taken"  (ibid.,  vol.  v,  p.  550). 

1TMS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1651-1654,  p.  226; 
above,  pp.  32,  33. 

18  MS.  Deeds  of  Henrico  County,  no.  5,  p.  585. 

92  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

named  negroes  to  the  only  proper  use,  behalf  and  benefit  of  him 
and  his  heirs  forever. 

DAVID  JONES  (Seal)19 

Free  negro  men  often  thus  purchased  their  slave  wives, 
and,  fearful  of  residence  prohibitions  upon  manumitted  ne 
groes,  held  their  wives  and  children  as  their  bond  slaves.20 
Free  negro  women  sometimes  purchased  their  slave  hus 
bands  to  subject  them  to  a  more  agreeable  bondage,  them 
selves  becoming  in  an  unusual  sense  their  mistresses  and 
owners.21  Daughters  were  sometimes  the  property  of  their 
mothers,  as  in  the  case  of  Janette  Wood,  of  Richmond,  who 
in  the  year  1795  was  emancipated  by  her  mother  "  for  and 
in  consideration  of  natural  love."22  John  Sabb  of  Rich 
mond  in  the  year  1801  purchased  his  aged  father-in-law, 
Julius,  and  manumitted  him  for  the  nominal  sum  of  five 

Prior  to  1806  the  purchase  of  one  member  of  a  family 
by  another  was  usually  soon  followed  by  a  deed  of  manu 
mission,  but  after  an  act24  of  that  year  had  made  illegal  the 
continued  residence  of  negroes  manumitted  after  May  I, 
1806,  the  relation  of  master  and  slave  within  free  negro 

19  MS.  Petitions,  Amelia  County,  A  768. 

20  A  free  negro  of   Prince  William  County,   Daniel  Webster  by 
name,  being  sixty  years  of  age  and  expecting  soon  to  die,  petitioned 
the  legislature  to  permit  his  wife  and  children  to  remain  in  Virginia 
contrary  to  the  law  of  1806,  which  required  slaves  manumitted  there 
after  to  leave  the  State  within  twelve  months.     During  his  life  he 
had  avoided  the  evil  consequences  of  this  law  to  the  members  of  his 
family  by  continuing  to  own  them  as  his  slaves;  but  at  his  death 
the  danger  of  their  being  sold  by  an  administrator  was  more  threat 
ening  than  the  danger  of  removal  from  the  State,  and  he  wished 
to  manumit  them  (MS.  Petitions,  Prince  William  County,  1812). 

21  In  1828  Phil  Cooper  and  his  wife,  free  people  of  color,  petitioned 
the  legislature  for  a  law  permitting  the  husband  to  reside  in  Vir 
ginia.     His  wife  owned  him  as  her  slave,  but  wished  to  manumit 
him  provided  that  he  might  live  in  the  State  (MS.  Petitions,  Glou 
cester  County,  A  6987).     See  also  Lower  Norfolk  County  Virginia 
Antiquary,  vol.  iv,  p.  177,  for  statement  concerning  Betsy  Fuller,  a 
free  negro  huckstress  of  Norfolk,  who  owned  her  husband.    Upon 
the  approach  and  outbreak  of  the  Civil  War  the  slave  husband  was 
loud  in  the  expression  of  southern  views,  and  evidently  was  indiffer 
ent  as  to  his  emancipation. 

22  MS.  Deeds  of  Henrico  County,  no.  4,  p.  692. 
29  Ibid.,  no.  6,  p.  274. 

^Hening,  vol.  xvi,  p.  252. 


families  became  quite  common.  A  petition  of  a  slave  wo 
man,  Ermana,  to  the  legislature  of  1839  stated  that  her 
husband  had  been  a  free  man  of  color,  that  he  had  died 
intestate,  and  that  she,  her  children,  and  her  property  had 
escheated  to  the  literary  fund.  She  prayed  that  the  right  of 
the  fund  to  her  and  to  her  property  be  relinquished.25  Sally 
Dabney,  a  slave  of  her  husband,  was  bequeathed  property 
by  his  will  as  if  she  had  been  free.  The  testator  died 
without  heirs.  The  wife,  being  a  slave,  was  not  competent 
to  receive  the  bequest;  hence  the  property  escheated  to  the 
literary  fund.  The  question  arose  as  to  whether  the  wife 
also  should  not  be  sold  for  the  benefit  of  the  fund,  and  an 
act  of  the  legislature  was  passed  to  release  the  claims  of  the 
State  to  her.26  ,^J*.V 

In  the  exercise  of  their  legal  right  to  own  slaves  black 
masters  did  not  always  confine  themselves  to  the  purchase 
of  their  kindred  for  beneficent  purposes.  Some  negroes 
purchased  and  held  slaves  with  the  same  considerations  of 
profit  in  view  as  governed  the  actions  of  white  owners  of 
slaves.  An  example  in  the  seventeenth  century  is  that  of 
John  Casor,  a  negro,  who  was  by  order  of  a  county  court  re 
manded  to  the  service  of  Anthony  Johnson,  a  negro  free 
holder.27  Judith  Angus,  a  well-to-do  free  negress  of  Peters 
burg,  owned  two  slave  girls  as  her  personal  servants.  At 
her  death  she  left  a  will,  dated  1832,  by  which  she  disposed 
in  regard  to  these  two  girls  as  follows :  "  My  servants  Jimmy 
and  Docy  shall  work  until  they  obtain  money  enough  to 
enable  them  to  leave  the  state  and  thereby  secure  their  free 
dom  according  to  the  laws  of  Virginia.  In  the  event  of 
their  remaining  here,  they  shall  belong  to  my  son  Moses."28 
Against  a  free  negro  who  held  another  negro  in  slavery 
could  be  used  only  such  legal  remedies  as  could  be  used 

23  It  is  probable  that  all  the  relatives  of  the  deceased  man  were 
slaves;  hence  his  property  escheated  to  the  State  (House  Journal, 
1839,  p.  21). 

28  Acts,  1834-1835,  p.  242. 

27  MS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1651-1654,  p.  226; 
above,  pp.  32,  33. 

28  MS.  Petitions,  Dinwiddie  County,  1833,  A  5123. 

94  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

against  a  white  master.  Mary  Quickley,  a  free  black  wo 
man  of  Richmond,  held  as  her  slave  a  woman  named  Sarah. 
Suit  was  granted  in  the  hustings  court  to  Sarah  against  her 
black  mistress  only  after  appointed  counsel  had  inquired 
into  the  claims  of  Sarah  based  upon  her  own  free  status. 
Suit  was  granted  at  the  same  time  to  Sarah's  children,  who 
were  held  by  white  persons.29 

Complete  as  were  the  free  negro's  rights  in  property  law 
fully  possessed,  he  was  nevertheless  limited  in  a  few  re 
spects  as  to  the  kinds  of  property  he  could  acquire.  The 
limitations  imposed  were  police  regulations,  and  were  ap 
parently  not  discriminations  against  the  free  negro  as  such. 
In  the  ownership  of  slaves,  dogs,  firelocks,  poisonous  drugs, 
and  intoxicants,  free  negroes  were  subject  to  limitations 
which  did  not  apply  to  white  persons. 

As  early  as  1670  free  negroes  were  forbidden  to  own 
white  servants.30  By  an  act  of  1832  they  were  declared  in 
capable  of  purchasing  or  otherwise  acquiring  permanent 
ownership,  except  by  descent,  of  any  slaves  other  than  hus 
band,  wife,  and  children;  contracts  for  any  such  purchase 
were  declared  void.31  By  the  Code  of  1849  the  limitation 
was  the  same,  except  that  parents  were  included  among  the 
persons  whom  free  negroes  could  acquire.32  An  amend 
ment  of  this  section,  made  March  31,  1858,  changed  the  law 
to  read :  "  No  free  negro  shall  be  capable  of  acquiring,  ex 
cept  by  descent,  any  slave."33  There  is  evidence,  however, 

29 "  On  a  petition  of  Sarah  alledging  herself  illegally  detained  in 
slavery  by  Mary  Quickley  a  free  black  woman  of  this  city  .  .  .  [and 
on  a  similar  petition  of  Sarah's  children]  for  leave  to  sue  their 
owners  for  freedom  in  forma  pauperis,  Ordered  that  James  Rind 
Gent,  be  requested  to  certify  his  opinion  to  this  court  respecting  the 
probable  claims  of  the  petitioners  .  .  .  which  he  having  done,  It  is 
further  ordered  that  they  be  allowed  to  sue  for  their  freedom" 
(Orders  of  Hustings  Court  of  Richmond,  vol.  5>  P-  41)- 

30  Hening,  vol  ii,  p.  280. 

31  Acts,  1831-1832,  p.  20.     The  vote  by  which  this  bill  was  passed  in 
the  Senate  was  15  to  14  (Senate  Journal,  1832,  p.  176). 

32  Code   (1849),  P.  458. 

33 Acts,  1857-1858;  Code  (1860),  p.  510.  "The  object  of  this  law 
is  probably  to  keep  slaves  as  far  as  possible  under  the  control  of 
white  men  only,  and  prevent  free  negroes  from  holding  persons  of 
their  own  race  and  color  in  personal  subjection  to  themselves. 


that  these  laws  prohibiting  the  purchase  and  sale  of  slaves 
by  free  negroes  were  not  enforced,  and  that  free  negroes 
continued  after  1832  to  go  into  the  market  to  purchase 
slaves  for  profit.  Had  it  not  been  so,  there  would  have  been 
no  occasion  for  the  repeated  propositions  made  and  the  laws 
passed  after  1832  to  prevent  the  practice.  Moreover,  there 
are  persons  living  who  affirm  from  observation  that  down 
to  the  Civil  War  some  free  negroes  owned  slaves  merely 
in  order  to  profit  by  them.34 

Another  limitation  upon  the  right  of  free  negroes  to  own 
property  was  that  in  respect  to  firearms  or  other  weapons, 
with  which  they  might  themselves  do  injury,  or,  by  placing 
them  in  the  hands  of  slaves,  menace  the  safety  of  society. 
An  act  of  1680  declared  that  "no  negro  or  other  slave" 
could  own  or  carry  a  "  club,  staffe,  gunn  or  any  other  weapon 
of  defense  or  offense."35  In  the  revision  of  the  laws  in 
1705  the  word  "negro"  was  omitted,  so  that  slaves  only 
were  forbidden  to  keep  arms.36  In  1723  free  negroes,  mu- 
lattoes,  and  Indians  were  forbidden  to  "keep  or  carry  any 
gun,  powder  or  shot  or  any  club  or  other  weapon  what 
soever  offensive  or  defensive."  Free  negro  housekeepers 
and  those  enrolled  in  the  militia  were,  however,  excepted. 

Perhaps  also  it  is  intended  to  evince  the  distinctive  superiority  of 
the  white  race"  (Opinion  of  Judge  Lee  in  Dunlop  v.  Harrison's 
Executors,  14  Grattan,  260). 

**  Reuben  West,  a  free  negro  barber  who  lived  in  Richmond  during 
the  last  three  decades  before  the  Civil  War  and  paid  taxes  on  real 
property  valued  at  $4420  (City  Tax  Books,  1856,  1859),  is  said 
by  William  Mundin,  a  mulatto  barber  now  living  in  Richmond, 
who  was  born  free  in  1837,  to  have  purchased  a  slave  house  servant. 
According  to  the  statement  of  Mundin,  who  was  at  that  time  serv 
ing  an  apprenticeship  to  Reuben  West,  this  woman  slave  showed 
toward  her  black  master  a  spirit  of  insubordination,  and  was  there 
fore  soon  sold  by  him.  James  H.  Hill,  another  colored  contem 
porary  of  Reuben  West,  asserts  that  West  owned  two  slaves,  and 
that  one  of  them  was  a  mulatto  barber.  As  far  as  the  statements 
made  by  these  men  in  lengthy  interviews  with  the  author  could  be 
verified  in  authentic  records,  they  were  found  to  be  trustworthy. 
See  also  Lower  Norfolk  County  Virginia  Antiquary,  vol.  iv,  pp. 
174-182,  for  negro  slave-owners  enumerated  in  a  list,  prepared  by 
the  commissioners  of  the  revenue,  of  all  slave-owners  of  Princess 
Anne  County  in  1840. 
5  Hening,  vol.  ii,  p.  481. 

38  Ibid.,  vol.  iii,  p.  459. 

96  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

Such  as  lived  on  frontier  plantations  could  upon  application 
be  granted  licenses  to  keep  and  use  one  gun.37 

The  acts  regulating  the  enlistment  of  free  negroes  in 
the  militia  in  the  eighteenth  century  show  the  distrust  which 
was  felt  of  negroes  in  possession  of  firearms.  The  militia 
act  of  1748  declared  that  "all  such  free  mulattoes,  negroes 
or  Indians,  as  are  or  shall  be  listed,  as  aforesaid,  shall  ap 
pear  without  arms."38  The  substance  of  this  provision  was 
repeated  in  I75539  and  in  I757-40  The  provision  was 
dropped  during  the  Revolution,  manifestly  for  the  purpose 
of  permitting  free  colored  men  to  become  soldiers.41  With 
the  increase  of  the  free  negro  class  and  following  the  dis 
covery  of  a  negro  plot  in  1800,  the  feeling  of  danger  from 
free  negroes  in  possession  of  firearms  became  more  intense ; 
and  a  law  of  1806  forbade  any  free  negro  or  mulatto,  house 
keeper  or  otherwise,  to  "  keep  or  carry  any  fire-lock  of  any 
kind,  any  military  weapon  or  any  powder  or  lead  "  without 
first  obtaining  a  license  from  the  county  or  corporation 
court.42  A  free  negro  caught  with  a  gun  or  other  weapon 
in  violation  of  this  act  forfeited  the  weapon  to  the  informer, 
and  received  thirty-nine  lashes  at  the  whipping-post.43 

More  rigid  still  was  the  law  dealing  with  this  subject 
which  was  passed  in  the  first  session  of  the  legislature  after 
the  Southampton  insurrection.44  So  much  of  former  acts 
as  permitted  justices  to  grant  licenses  to  free  negroes  or 

37  Hening,  vol.  iv,  p.  131. 
88  Ibid.,  vol.  v,  p.  17. 

39  Ibid.,  vol.  vi,  p.  33. 

40  Ibid.,  vol.  vii,  p.  95. 

41  Ibid.,  vol.  ix,  p.  27   (1775);  vol.  ix,  p.  268  (1777) ;  see  below, 
p.  no. 

42  A  Norfolk  County   court  in   1820  made  the   following  order: 
"  Upon  the  application  of  James  Cuffie,  a  free  man  of  colour,  re 
siding  in  this  county,  a  license  is  granted  him  to  keep  a  gun  with 
ammunition    for    the    protection    of    his    property"    (MS.    Orders, 
1819-1820,  circa  p.  280).     Note  also  the  following:  "Ordered  that 
the  order  of  this  court  made  the  9th  day  of  August  last  granting 
permission  to  James  Harris  a  free  man  of  colour  to  carry  and  use  a 
gun  be  rescinded"  (MS.  Minutes  of  Henrico  County,  no.  27,  p.  516). 

43  Hening,  vol.  xvi,  p.  274. 
"Acts,  1831-1832,  p.  20. 


mulattoes  to  keep  or  carry  a  firelock  or  any  powder  or  lead 
were  by  this  law  repealed.  This  absolute  denial  to  free 
negroes  of  the  use  of  firearms  imposed  a  serious  disability 
upon  the  farming  element  of  this  class.  In  1839  Thomas 
Beasley,  a  free  negro  of  Giles  County,  remonstrated  to  the 
legislature  against  this  prohibition,  saying  that  the  moun 
tainous  frontier  country  where  he  lived  was  infested  with 
wild  beasts,  and  that  the  law  prohibiting  free  negroes  to  use 
firelocks  subjected  him  and  his  class  to  a  great  hardship  in 
that  they  had  no  means  of  protecting  their  domestic  animals 
and  crops.45  A  similar  petition,  endorsed  with  the  signa 
tures  of  eighty  white  citizens,  was  presented  in  1840  by  James 
and  Joseph  Viney,  free  negroes  of  Giles  County.46  In 
spite  of  remonstrances  against  this  law,  it  remained  in  force 
until  the  Civil  War.47  In  1839  patrols  in  search  of  arms 
unlawfully  held  were  granted  authority  to  force  open  the 
doors  of  such  free  negroes  as  were  suspected  of  violating 
these  laws.48 

The  ownership  by  free  negroes  of  dogs,  as  of  firearms, 
was  objectionable,  and  for  similar  reasons.  Prowling  free 
negroes  accompanied  by  dogs  became  a  menace,  particularly 
to  the  sheep-raising  industry,49  and  efforts  were  made  in 
several  counties  to  prevent  free  negroes  from  keeping  dogs. 
In  1848  an  act  forbade  free  negroes  in  Mathews  County  to 
own  dogs.50  In  1858  a  similar  law  was  passed  for  the  coun 
ties  of  Essex,  King  and  Queen,  James  City,  and  New  Kent.61 
For  passing  through  or  going  about  in  any  of  these  last 
named  counties  with  a  dog  a  free  negro  was  liable  to  pun 
ishment  by  stripes,  not  exceeding  thirty-nine,  and  a  fine  of 
five  dollars.  A  bill  to  make  general  the  prohibition  through- 

45  MS.  Petitions,  Giles  County,  1839,  A  6812. 

"  Ibid.,  1840,  A  6821. 

47  Code  (1849),  P-  754;  Code  (1860),  p.  816. 

*  Acts,  1839,  P-  24. 

See  a  petition  to  the  legislature  which  represents  that  both  free 
negroes  and  dogs  kill  sheep  as  they  prowl  through  the  neighbor 
hood  (MS.  Petitions,  Chesterfield  County,  1854,  A 4321). 

60  Acts,  1847-1848;  House  Journal,  1847-1848,  p.  436. 

51  Acts,  1857-1858,  p.  152. 

98  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

out  the  State  passed  the  House  of  Delegates  in  1848,  but 
failed  to  receive  the  approval  of  the  Senate.52 

The  laws  of  Virginia  extended  their  protection  not  only, 
as  we  have  already  seen,  to  the  property  of  the  free  negro, 
but,  as  we  shall  now  see,  to  his  life  and  liberty.  In  any 
case  in  which  the  freedom  of  a  negro  was  disputed  the  bur 
den  of  proof  was  upon  the  negro  to  show  that  he  was  free. 
Unlike  the  recognized  principle  of  English  law  which  de 
mands  that  every  man  be  regarded  as  innocent  till  his  guilt 
is  established  by  evidence,  a  free  negro  taken  up  and  de 
prived  of  his  liberty  as  being  a  slave  had,  in  order  to  procure 
his  release,  to  produce  evidence  that  he  was  not  a  slave.  In 
1806  George  Wythe,  chancellor  of  the  State  of  Virginia, 
gave  as  grounds  for  decreeing  the  freedom  of  three  persons 
claimed  as  slaves  that  freedom  is  the  birthright  of  every 
human  being.  He  laid  it  down  as  a  general  proposition  that 
whenever  one  person  claims  to  hold  another  in  slavery,  the 
onus  probandi  lies  on  the  claimant.  This  application  of  the 
Declaration  of  Independence  was  completely  repudiated  by 
the  supreme  court  of  appeals  when  the  case  came  up  for 
final  review.53  Judge  Tucker,  who  spoke  for  a  unanimous 
court,  asserted  that  the  burden  of  proof  is  not  upon  the 
claimant,  but  upon  the  negro  to  show  that  he  is  free ;  whereas 
with  a  white  man  or  an  Indian  held  in  slavery  the  burden  is 
with  the  claimant.5*  Again,  in  Fulton's  Executors  v.  Gracey 

"House  Journal,  1847-1848,  p.  436.  In  the  act  incorporating  the 
town  of  Manchester  authority  was  given  to  the  trustees  to  prohibit 
slaves,  free  negroes,  and  mulattoes  from  raising  hogs  and  dogs 
(Acts,  1843-1844,  p.  96). 

Although  free  negroes  were  not  forbidden  to  possess  poisonous 
drugs  and  intoxicating  liquors,  the  sale  of  these  articles  to  them 
was  a  matter  of  rigid  regulation  or  absolute  prohibition  (Acts, 
1855-1856,  p.  45;  1857-1858,  p.  51).  Complaint  came  to  the  legisla 
ture  in  1836  that  free^negroes  were  acting  as  agents  for  slaves  in 
purchasing  ardent  spirits  from  the  venders  (MS.  Petitions,  North 
umberland  County,  1836,  B  4969). 

"Hudgins  v.  Wright,  I  Hening  and  Munford,  133. 

M  In  the  argument  Judge  Tucker  supposes  that  "  three  persons,  a 
black  or  mulatto  man  or  woman  with  a  flat  nose  and  woolly  head; 
a  copper-colored  person  with  long  jetty  black  or  straight  hair; 
and  one  with  fair  complexion,  brown  hair,  not  woolly,  nor  inclined 
thereto,  with  a  prominent  Roman  nose,  were  brought  together  before 


the  court  declared  that  "  in  the  case  of  a  person  visibly  ap 
pearing  to  be  a  white  man  or  Indian  the  presumption  is  that 
he  is  free,  but  in  the  case  of  a  person  visibly  appearing  to 
be  a  negro,  the  presumption  is  that  he  is  a  slave.  .  .  .  The 
plaintiff  in  a  suit  for  freedom  must  make  out  his  title 
against  all  the  world."55 

The  presumption  being  thus  against  the  freedom  of  ne 
groes,  there  was  always  a  temptation  to  "  divers  ill-disposed 
persons"  to  force  free  negroes  into  slavery  by  theft,  cap 
ture,  or  collusion,  especially  those  free  negroes  whose  occu 
pations  were  already  servile.56  A  law  of  1765,  designed  to 
prevent  this  practice,  fixed  at  £70  the  penalty  for  selling  as 
a  slave  a  colored  person  who  was  only  a  servant.57  In  1788, 
when  the  precious  character  and  value  of  liberty  was  re 
ceiving  unusual  emphasis,  a  law  was  enacted  which  fixed 
upon  persons  guilty  of  stealing  or  selling  as  a  slave  any  free 
negro  or  mulatto  the  extreme  penalty  of  death  without  ben 
efit  of  clergy.58  By  the  enactments  of  1792  the  penalty  re 
mained  the  same,  but  in  the  codification  of  1819  it  was 
changed  from  death59  to  imprisonment  in  the  penitentiary 
for  at  least  two  years.60  An  act  of  1848  raised  the  mini 
mum  term  to  three  years,  and  after  that  no  further  change 
was  made  in  the  penalty  for  this  offense.61 

Far  from  becoming  empty  verbiage  in  our  criminal  code, 
these  laws  received  general  and  often  rigorous  enforce 
ment.62  In  the  opinion  of  the  general  court  in  Common- 

a  judge  upon  a  suit  of  habeas  corpus.  .  .  .  How  must  the  Judge  act 
in  this  ^ase?  .  .  .  If  the  whole  case  be  left  with  the  judge,  he  must 
deliver  the  [white  man  and  the  Indian]  out  of  custody,  and  permit 
the  negro  to  remain  in  slavery,  until  he  could  produce  proof  of  his 
freedom."  Cf.  case  of  Aron  Jackson,  in  MS.  Minutes  of  Henrico 
County,  no.  27,  p.  142. 

55 15  Grattan,  323. 

68  For  examples,  see  Calendar  of  Virginia  State  Papers,  vol.  i, 
p.  10;  ii  Leigh,  633;  MS.  Minutes  of  Henrico  County,  no.  27,  p.  129. 

67  Hening,  vol.  viii,  p.  133. 
1  Ibid.,  vol.  xii,  p.  531. 

68  Ibid.,  vol.  xiv,  p.  127. 
80 1  Revised  Code,  427. 

"Acts,  1847-1848,  p.  97;  Code  (1860),  p.  785. 
62  MS.  Minutes  of  Henrico  County,  no.  27,  p.  129;  Commonwealth 
v.  Nix,  ii  Leigh,  636. 

IOO  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

wealth  v.  Mercer  they  were  not  to  be  construed  as  a  pro 
tection  for  a  white  man  who  might  become  the  victim  of 
fraud  if  a  free  negro  should  be  sold  to  him  as  a  slave,  but 
their  purpose  and  use  was  the  protection  of  free  negroes  in 
their  freedom.63  In  Davenport  v.  Commonwealth64  the 
supreme  court  of  appeals  held  that  kidnapping  a  free  negro 
without  the  actual  sale  constituted  the  crime  against  which 
the  law  was  directed,  and,  further,  that  stealing  a  free  negro 
with  felonious  intent  to  appropriate  him  was  criminal, 
whether  the  person  knew  him  to  be  free  or  not.  The  ac 
tivity  and  interest  manifested  in  the  prosecution  of  viola 
tors  of  this  law  is  shown  by  the  proclamation  of  Governor 
Lee  issued  July  8,  1794: — 

Whereas  I  have  received  information  that  some  wicked  and  evil- 
disposed  persons  .  .  .  did  on  the  night  of  the  20th  of  June  last 
feloniously  steal  and  take  away  two  children  of  Peggy  Howell,  a 
free  Mulatto  living  in  the  county  of  Charlotte,  with  a  design  as  is 
supposed  to  sell  them  in  some  of  the  neighboring  states  as  slaves, 
the  name  and  description  of  which  children  are  contained  in  the  Hue 
and  Cry  subjoined,  and  whereas  the  rights  of  humanity  are  deeply 
interested  in  the  restoration  of  the  children  to  their  parents,  and 
the  good  order  of  society  is  involved  in  the  punishment  of  the 
offenders,  I  do  by  and  with  the  advice  of  the  Council  of  State  issue 
this  Proclamation  offering  a  reward  of  Fifty  Dollars  for  the  re 
covery  of  each  of  the  said  children  and  the  further  sum  of  one 
hundred  dollars  for  apprehending  and  securing  in  the  public  jail  of 
Charlotte  County  the  offender  or  offenders. 


Against  the  easy  abuse  of  the  principle  of  presuming 
slavery  from  color  the  liberty  of  the  free  negro  was  further 
safeguarded  by  remedial  laws  of  procedure  and  by  a  general 
liberality  in  the  courts  in  consideration  of  all  claims  to  free 
dom.  A  legally  certified  register,  called  by  the  free  negroes 

^Abram  Hirer,  a  free  negro,  entered  into  an  agreement  with  a 
white  man  named  Mercer  to  allow  himself  to  be  sold  as  a  slave. 
Hiter,  it  was  planned,  would  later  assert  his  freedom  and  share 
with  Mercer  the  proceeds  of  the  sale.  Mercer's  act  of  defrauding 
the  purchaser  was  not  punishable  under  the  law,  inasmuch  as  it  in 
volved  no  fraud  upon  the  negro  (2  Va.  Cases,  144). 

64 1  Leigh,  588. 

65  MS.  Proclamation  Book,  p.  53;  Calendar  of  Virginia  State 
Papers,  vol.  viii,  p.  231.  See  MS.  Court  Records  of  Charlotte 
County,  1794,  for  proceedings  of  a  court  held  for  the  purpose  of 
taking  depositions  in  this  case. 


"  free  papers,"  was  sufficient  to  repel  the  presumption  and 
to  shift  the  burden  of  proof  to  the  person  denying  freedom 
to  its  possessor.  "  To  suppose,"  said  the  court  in  Delacy 
v.  Antoine,  "that  a  free  negro  in  possession  of  regular  free 
papers  may  be  falsely  imprisoned  without  redress  is  indeed 
to  attribute  a  gross  and  lamentable  omission  to  the  law.  To 
confine  that  redress  to  a  suit  in  forma  pauperis  to  establish 
his  freedom  when  he  already  has  the  conclusive  proof  of  it 
in  his  hands  would  be  a  mockery.  A  free  negro  as  well  as  a 
free  white  man  must  be  entitled  to  the  habeas  corpus  act."66 
After  1793  every  free  negro  was  required  to  register  in 
the  county  or  corporation  court,  and  for  twenty-five  cents 
was  entitled  to  a  copy  of  the  register  with  the  seal  of  the 
court  annexed,  which  copy  was  prima  facie  evidence  of 
freedom.67  In  the  absence  of  immediate  evidence  of  free 
dom,  a  free  negro  detained  as  a  slave  could  bring  suit  in 
forma  pauperis,  in  which  he  had  the  benefit  of  assigned 
counsel  and  which  was  conducted  without  cost  to  the  plain 
tiff.68  He  was  protected  by  the  laws  against  intimidation 
in  his  suit  from  the  person  claiming  to  be  his  master.69 
Courts  of  equity  were  open  to  him.70  Liberal  rules  of  evi 
dence  in  suits  either  in  law  or  equity  where  freedom  was 
involved  were  applied.  If  he  had  lost  his  free  papers,  he 
could  offer  evidence  that  he  had  once  had  them.71  Hear 
say  and  reputation  were  received  as  evidence  of  the  status 
of  one's  ancestors  in  an  effort  to  establish  free  birth.72  An 

66  7  Leigh,  438;  cf.  15  Grattan,  256,  323.    • 

67  Hening,  vol.  xiv,  p.  238;  I  Revised  Code,  440. 

68  Hening,  vol.  xiv,  p.  363;  I  Revised  Code,  481.     "On  petition  of 
Sarah  [and  her  children]  ...  It  is  ordered  that  they  be  allowed  to 
sue  for  their  freedom  in  this  court  in  forma  pauperis  and  James 
Rind  Gent  is  assigned  their  counsel  to  prosecute  the  said  suits  and 
that  their  owners  do  not  presume  to  remove,  beat  or  misuse  them 
upon  this  account,  but  suffer  them  to  come  to  the  Clerk's  office  of 
this  court  for  subpoenas  for  their  witnesses  and  to  attend  their  ex 
aminations  "  (Orders  of  Hustings  Court  of  Richmond,  no.  5,  p.  41). 

^Orders  of  Hustings  Court  of  Richmond,  no.  5,  p.  41. 

70  Sam  v.  Blakemore,  4  Randall,  466;  I  Hening  and  Munford,  133. 

71  MS.  Minutes  of  Henrico  County,  no.  27,  p.  503. 

72  In  Pegram  v.  Isabell,  a  suit  for  freedom,  a  witness  for  the  negro 
testified  that  he  had  heard  a  very  old  man  say  that  he  believed  a 
certain  ancestor  of  Isabell  was  free.     The  supreme  court  of  appeals 

IO2  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

oft  repeated  doctrine  of  the  supreme  court  of  appeals  was 
that  the  laws  should  be  construed  as  far  as  possible  in  favor 
of  freedom.  "I  will  remark,"  said  Judge  Campbell,  "that 
this  court  has  often  declared  that  the  same  strictness  as  to 
form  will  not  be  required  in  actions  for  freedom  as  in  other 
cases."73  Judge  Roane,  speaking  for  the  court  in  Patty  v. 
Colin  in  1807,  said :  "  The  spirit  of  the  decisions  of  this  court 
in  relation  to  suits  for  freedom,  while  it  neither  abandons 
the  rules  of  evidence  nor  the  rules  of  law,  applying  to  prop 
erty,  with  a  becoming  liberality,  respects  the  merit  of  the 
claim.  .  .  .  On  this  ground  it  is  that  parties  suing  for  free 
dom  are  not  confined  to  the  rigid  rules  of  proceeding  and 
that  their  claims  are  not  repudiated  by  the  Court  as  long  as 
a  possible  chance  exists  that  they  can  meet  with  a  successful 

These  special  rules  of  procedure  were  needed,  however, 
only  in  cases  in  which  the  question  of  freedom  was  being 
tried.  "  Where  there  is  no  contest  about  that  right,  but  the 
litigation  arises  out  of  other  matters  it  would  be  absurd  to 
send  the  petitioner  [a  free  negro]  to  sue  in  forma  pauperis," 
said  Judge  Tucker,  in  a  case  before  the  court  in  1836;  "the 
remedy  of  habeas  corpus  must  of  course  prevail."75  A  trial 
upon  a  writ  of  habeas  corpus  could  not  be  denied  a  free 
negro  if  detained  or  deprived  of  his  liberty  by  any  person 
not  claiming  to  be  his  master,76  as,  for  example,  by  a  creditor 

held  that  such  evidence  was  admissible  (2  Hening  and  Munford,  210; 
cf.  Gregory  v.  Baugh,  2  Leigh,  665,  and  Hudgins  v.  Wrights,  I  Hen- 
ing  and  Munford,  134).  In  15  Grattan,  314,  the  supreme  court  says: 
"  Evidence  of  her  having  acted  and  been  generally  reputed  as  a 
free  person  is  certainly  admissible  evidence  of  her  freedom."  In 
Fulton's  Executors  v.  Gracey  the  court  held  that  "any  legal  evi 
dence  tending  to  show  that  the  plaintiffs  are  free  tends  to  repel 
the  presumption  arising  from  color  that  they  are  slaves,  and  is, 
therefore,  admissible"  (15  Grattan,  323). 

73  McMichens  v.  Amos,  4  Randall,  134. 

74 1  Hening  and  Munford,  519. 

75  7  Leigh,  538. 

"Delacy  v.  Antoine  et  al.,  7  Leigh,  443  (1836);  Rudler's  Execu 
tors  v.  Ben,  10  Leigh,  467;  Shue  v.  Turk,  15  Grattan,  256;  Minor, 
vol.  i,  p.  169.  In  the  case  of  Peter  et  al.  v.  Hargrave  (5  Grattan, 
14),  tried  in  1848,  Judge  Baldwin  said  concerning  the  rights  of  a 
free  negro,  "  Against  continued  force  he  may  invoke  the  high  and 
summary  remedy  by  writ  of  habeas  corpus." 


of  himself  or  of  his  former  owner ;  nor  was  he  handicapped 
in  such  cases  with  the  burden  of  proof  or  a  presumption  of 
guilt  against  him.  Against  persons  doing  him  injury  or  for 
the  enforcement  of  contracts  he  could  bring  suit  in  any  court 
that  was  open  to  any  other  freeman.77  In  case  the  decisions 
of  the  lower  courts  were  adverse,  he  could  appeal  even  to 
the  highest  court  of  the  State.78  He  could,  and  often  did, 
petition  the  legislature  when  his  grievances  were  such  as 
could  not  be  redressed  by  the  courts.79 

Prior  to  1832,  trial  by  jury  was  the  method  of  determin 
ing  the  guilt  or  innocence  of  free  negroes  charged  with 
crimes.  They  were  regularly  indicted  or  presented  by  a 
grand  jury,  and  were  entitled  to  a  hearing  upon  the  indict 
ment  before  a  petit  jury.80  Being  indicted,  they  were  al 
lowed  to  go  at  liberty  when  they  could  furnish  a  satisfactory 
bond  to  secure  their  appearance  in  answer  to  the  indict 
ment.81  They  were  entitled  to  counsel,  could  make  excep 
tions  in  arrest  of  judgment,  and  the  unanimous  consent  of 

77 "  William  Palmer  appeared  to  answer  the  complaint  of  Peter 
Robinson  (a  free  black  man)  against  him  for  breach  of  the  peace." 
Palmer  was  bound  under  penalty  of  forfeiture  of  one  hundred 
dollars  "  to  keep  the  peace  and  be  of  good  behavior  .  .  .  and  par 
ticularly  toward  Peter  Robinson"  (Orders  of  Hustings  Court  of 
Richmond,  no.  5,  p.  132).  The  Norfolk  County  court  records  (1718- 
J/JQ)  P-  *)  contain  the  following  entry:  "Robert  Richards  and  the 
rest  of  the  free  negroes  agst.  Lewis  Corner  Meritt  in  an  action  for 
debt  not  being  prosecuted  is  dismissed."  See  also,  MS.  Orders  of 
Henrico  County,  no.  6,  p.  4,  for  the  case  of  "  David  Cowper,  a  free 
negro,  Pit.  against  Beltaes  Dorish  Deft.  Suit  abated  by  death  of 
Deft."  Also  MS.  Court  Orders  of  Norfolk  County,  1768-1771, 
p.  257:  "Frank  (a  free  negro)  against  Jane  Miller;"  and  Jeffer 
son's  Reports,  go. 

78  Ex  parte  Morris,  n  Grattan,  292  (1854),  was  a  case  in  which  a 
free  negro  appealed  from  a  corporation  court  to  a  circuit  court  and 
finally  to  the  supreme  court  of  appeals.  Winn's  Administrators  v. 
Jones  was  a  case  taken  on  appeal  in  1835  by  a  negro  to  the  supreme 
court  of  appeals ;  this  court  sustained  his  challenge  of  free  negro 
witnesses  used  against  him  in  the  lower  court  (6  Leigh,  74). 

"See  Calendar  of  Virginia  State  Papers,  vol.  i,  p.  10  (1665); 
Journal  of  the  House  of  Burgesses,  1760-1769,  p.  198:  "a  petition 
of  the  people  called  mulattoes  and  free  negroes ;"  MS.  Petitions, 
Henrico  County,  1838,  and  below,  pp.  142-144,  for  examples  of  peti 
tions  of  free  negroes  to  the  state  legislature. 

80  John  Aldridge  v.  the  Commonwealth,  2  Va.  Cases,  447;  St.  G. 
Tucker,  A  Dissertation  on  Slavery,  pp.  56-58. 

81  Orders  of  Hustings  Court  of  Richmond,  no.  n,  p.  153- 

IO4  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

the  jurymen  was  necessary  for  conviction.  Prior  to  1832, 
in  the  method  of  trial  for  crimes  free  negroes  were  on  the 
same  footing  as  white  men.82 

In  the  first  session  of  the  legislature  following  the  South 
ampton  insurrection  in  1831,  free  negroes  were  denied  by 
statute  the  right  of  trial  by  jury,  except  for  offenses  punish 
able  with  death.  Thereafter  they  were  tried  by  courts  of 
oyer  and  terminer,83  which  had  been  in  use  since  1692  for 
the  "  speedy  prosecution  of  slaves  .  .  .  without  the  sollem- 
nitie  of  jury."84  No  fewer  than  five  justices  of  the  county 
or  corporation  could  sit  as  a  court,  and  a  unanimous  decision 
was  necessary  for  conviction.  The  decisions  of  the  court, 
comprehending  both  the  law  and  the  fact,  were  final.85  The 
trial  took  place  within  ten  days  after  commitment  of  the 
prisoners  to  jail,  and  conviction  was  followed  by  a  speedy 
execution  of  the  sentence.88  The  substitution  of  this  sum 
mary  method  of  trial  for  the  former  method  of  trial  by  jury 
is  indicative  of  the  disfavor  into  which  the  free  negro  had 
fallen,  and  represents  no  small  change  in  his  legal  status. 

For  minor  offenses  and  misdemeanors  free  negroes  suf 
fered  penalties  similar  to  those  inflicted  upon  slaves  for 
similar  violations.  Throughout  the  entire  period  whipping, 
"not  exceeding  thirty-nine  lashes  on  the  bare  back,  well 
laid  on,"  was  not  an  unusual  penalty  for  free  negroes  as 

83  St.  G.  Tucker,  A  Dissertation  on  Slavery,  pp.  56,  57 ;  Peter  v. 
Hargrave,  5  Grattan,  12.     See  Hening,  vol.  xv,  p.  77,  on  "  due  course 
of  law"   to  be  pursued  in  convicting   free  negroes  of  conspiracy 
with  slaves. 

88  Acts,  1831-1832,  ch.  22,  sec.  9;  Code  (1860),  ch.  ccxii.  An 
amendment  to  strike  out  of  the  law  the  clause  denying  to  free 
negroes  jury  trial  was  lost  in  the  Senate  by  a  vote  of  9  to  20  (Senate 
Journal,  1832,  p.  177).  The  act  provided  that  free  negroes  should 
be  tried  by  the  slave  courts  "  in  all  cases  where  the  punishment 
shall  be  death."  Disputes  at  once  arose  as  to  whether  this  meant 
offenses  for  which  slaves  had  suffered  death  or  offenses  capital 
when  committed  by  free  negroes.  The  courts  prevented  the  severity 
of  the  law  relating  to  the  punishment  of  slaves  from  passing  to  the 
free  negroes  by  determining  that  the  act  changed  the  method  of  trial 
but  not  the  method  of  punishment  (4  Leigh,  652,  658,  661). 

84  Hening,  vol.  iii,  p.  102;  vol.  iv,  p.  127. 

85 1    Revised   Code,  428-430 ;    Supplement  to   Revised  Code,  248 ; 
Anderson  (Free  negro)  v.  Commonwealth,  5  Leigh,  740. 
86 1  Revised  Code,  428. 


well  as  for  slaves.  Corporal  chastisement  was  prescribed 
as  a  punishment  for  free  negroes  in  many  cases  which,  had 
the  offender  been  a  white  man,  would  have  merited  the 
penalty  of  a  fine.  For  instance,  for  importing  a  free  negro 
a  white  man  was  to  be  imprisoned  from  six  to  twelve 
months  and  fined  not  less  than  five  hundred  dollars,  whereas 
a  free  negro  for  the  same  offense  was  to  receive  not  less 
than  twenty  nor  more  than  thirty-nine  lashes  at  the  public 
whipping-post.87  For  unlawful  destruction  of  oysters  in 
the  tidewater  section  a  white  man  would  under  the  law  be 
fined  fifty  dollars,  while  a  free  negro  would  be  fined  twenty 
dollars  and  given  thirty-nine  lashes  on  the  bare  back.88  For 
unlawfully  harboring  a  slave  a  white  man  and  a  free  negro 
alike  forfeited  ten  dollars,  but  if  the  negro  was  unable  to 
pay  the  fine,  he  was  given  thirty-nine  lashes  instead.89  In 
many  such  instances  the  law  openly  discriminated  against  the 
free  negro,  making  his  punishments  more  severe  than  those 
inflicted  upon  white  freemen,  while  the  shield  given  to  slaves 
in  their  misdemeanors  by  the  disciplinary  authority  of  the 
master  rendered  the  liability  to  public  punishments  of  the 
slave  less  than  that  of  the  free  negro.  The  free  negro 
was  the  individual  for  whom  the  laws  seem  to  have  been 
intended,  and  to  him  they  were  applied  with  peculiar  rigor. 
For  the  more  serious  offenses,  that  is,  for  grand  larceny 
and  other  felonies,  the  punishments  to  be  administered  to 
free  negroes  and  whites  were  for  the  most  part  the  same. 
A  notable  discrimination  was  introduced  in  1823  when 
crime  among  the  free  negroes  was  believed  to  be  rapidly 
increasing,  and  the  penitentiary  system  was  receiving  blame 
for  a  lack  of  restraint  on  and  moral  improvement  of  this 
class  of  the  population.90  The  legislature  enacted  that  free 
negroes  previously  punishable  with  imprisonment  in  the 

87  Acts,  1833-1834,  p.  78. 

"  Ibid.,  1836-1837,  P.  56. 

89Hening,  vol.  xv,  p.  77.  "They  are  subjected  to  restraints  and 
surveillance  in  points  beyond  number"  (Howison,  vol.  ii,  p.  460). 

90  Report  of  the  Superintendent  of  Penitentiary,  in  Documents  of 
the  House  of  Delegates,  1848-1849,  no.  15,  cited  as  House  Docu 

IO6  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

penitentiary  for  terms  of  more  than  two  years  were  there 
after  to  be  whipped,  transported,  and  sold  into  slavery  be 
yond  the  limits  of  the  United  States.91  This  act  was  con 
strued  to  mean  that  any  free  negro  found  guilty  of  a  crime 
for  which  the  maximum  penalty  prescribed  was  more  than 
two  years,  even  though  the  minimum  might  be  only  six 
months,  should  be  whipped  and  sold  as  a  slave.  Thus  con 
strued,  the  act  included  within  its  scope  almost  every  crime, 
except  petty  larceny,  committed  by  free  negroes.  Public 
sentiment  disapproved  of  this  inhuman  law,  and  forced  its 
repeal,  although  thirty-five  negroes  were  transported  and 
sold  into  slavery  during  the  four  years  that  it  remained  in 
force.92  In  1828  imprisonment  in  the  penitentiary  was 
again  resorted  to  as  a  punishment  for  free  negroes,  but  five 
years  was  made  the  shortest  term  for  which  a  free  negro 
could  be  sentenced,  whereas  two  years  was  the  minimum 
for  white  persons.93  In  1833  proposals  to  make  more  severe 
the  penalties  upon  free  negroes  were  voted  down  in  the 
House  of  Delegates  as  inexpedient.94  The  penal  code  of 
1848  made  uniform  for  all  free  persons  the  penalties  for 
most  criminal  offences.95  A  final  discrimination  was  intro 
duced  in  1860  by  an  act  which  provided  that  free  negroes 
convicted  of  crimes  punishable  by  sentence  to  the  peni 
tentiary  could  at  the  discretion  of  the  court  be  sold  into  per 
petual  slavery.96 

The  right  to  go  from  place  to  place  without  hindrance 
might  well  be  regarded  as  a  right  fundamental  to  real  free 
dom,  yet  in  few  other  respects  was  the  liberty  of  free  ne- 

91  Acts,    1822-1823,   p.   36.     The  constitutionality  of  this   act  was 
passed  upon  and  maintained  by  the  general  court  of  the  State  in 
the  case  of  John  Aldridge   (free  negro)   v.  the  Commonwealth,  2 
Va.  Cases,  447. 

92  Reports  of  the  Superintendent  of  Penitentiary,  in  House  Docu 
ments,  no.  15,  1848-1849,  and  no.  4,  1853-1854,  p.  45;  W.  B.  Giles, 
comp.,   Political   Miscellanies:   Letters  to  La  Fayette;   opinions  of 
Dade  and  Parker  in  John  Aldridge  v.  Commonwealth,  2  Va.  Cases, 
452,  457- 

93  Acts,  1827-1828,  p.  29. 

94  House  Journal,  1832-1833,  p.  208. 

95  Acts,  1847-1848,  p.  99;  Code  (1849),  p.  728  et  seq. 
98  Acts,  1859-1860,  p.   163. 


groes  restricted  so  much  as  in  this.  In  the  colonial  period 
there  was  little  regulation  of  their  movements ;  but  from  the 
time  that  their  number  reached  several  thousand  on  to  the 
Civil  War  their  liberty  to  move  about  in  the  State  and  to  go 
out  and  return  was  very  much  restricted.  In  1793  free  ne 
groes  were  forbidden  to  come  into  the  State  from  any  source 
to  take  up  permanent  residence.97  The  penalty  upon  a 
"master  of  a  vessel  or  other  person"  for  bringing  in  any 
free  negro  or  mulatto  was  £100.  A  free  negro  living  within 
the  State  could  not  go  from  one  town  or  county  to  another 
to  seek  employment  without  a  copy  of  his  register,  which 
was  kept  in  the  court  of  his  county  or  corporation.  Vio 
lators  of  this  law  were  often  committed  to  jail  until  they 
made  proof  of  their  freedom  and  paid  the  jailer's  fee.  If 
they  were  unable  to  pay  this  fee,  they  were  hired  out  to  the 
highest  bidder  for  a  time  sufficient  to  pay  the  charges.98  By 
an  act  of  1801  any  free  negro  who,  even  though  in  posses 
sion  of  "  free  papers,"  removed  into  another  county  or  cor 
poration  was  declared  an  intruder,  and  made  liable  to  arrest 
as  a  vagrant.99  By  a  later  act  they  were  denied  the  right  to 
change  their  residence  from  one  county  or  town  to  another 
without  permission  from  the  court  of  the  county  or  corpora 
tion  to  which  they  wished  to  go.100  After  1848  no  free 
negro  could  leave  the  State  for  the  purpose  of  education, 
or  go  for  any  purpose  to  a  non-slave-holding  State  and  re- 

97  Hening,  vol.  xiv,  p.  239.     Free  negroes  travelling  as  servants 
to  white  persons  or  working  on  vessels  were  excepted;  but  if  such 
negro  servant  got  away  from  his  master  or  from  the  ship,  the  bur 
den  of  proof  was  upon  him  to  show  why  he  should  not  be  whipped 
as  an  unlawful  emigrant  (Acts,  1833-1834,  p.  79). 

98  Hening,  vol.  xiv,  p.  238 ;   i   Revised  Code,  441 ;   Code  of  Va. 
(1849),   467.     "Ordered   that  the  Jailor   discharge   from   his   cus 
tody  Aron  Jackson  and  Johnson  who  were  committed  to  Jail  for 
want  of  free  papers   (it  appearing  to  the  satisfaction  of  the  court 
that  they  are  free)  upon  their  paying  the  Jailor's  fees  and  the  costs 
of  this  order"    (MS.  Minutes  of  Henrico  County,  no.  27,   1830). 

99  Hening,  vol.  xv,  p.  301 ;  I  Revised  Code,  441.     By  the  vagrancy 
laws  of  this  time,  "  persons  within  the  true  description  of  a  vagrant" 
were  committed  to  a  public  workhouse  for  a  term  not  exceeding 
three  months,  or  were  hired  out  by  the  overseers  of  the  poor  (2 
Revised  Code,  275,  276). 

100  House  Journal,  1815-1816,  p.  94,  for  grant  of  a  petition  to  re 
move  from  one  county  to  another;  Code  (1849),  468>  (1860)  522. 

IO8  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

turn.101  Although  these  laws  restricting  the  movements  of 
the  free  negro  were  not  enforced  with  equal  thoroughness 
throughout  the  State,  they  were  nevertheless  enforced  suffi 
ciently  to  render  precarious  the  condition  of  any  violator. 

Possibly  the  most  extraordinary  legal  right  possessed  by 
free  negroes  at  any  time  during  the  continuation  of  slavery 
was  the  right  to  choose  a  master  and  to  go  into  voluntary 
bondage.  Liberty  to  become  a  slave  was  one  variety  of 
liberty  which  a  white  man  could  not  have  exercised  had  he 
wished  to  do  so.  One  might  surmise  that  this  right  pos 
sessed  for  a  while  by  free  negroes  was  of  a  higher  class  of 
rights  than  the  fundamental,  inherent  rights  spoken  of  by 
the  constitutional  fathers ;  for  a  free  negress  who  exercised 
it  deprived  and  divested  her  posterity  of  liberty,  and  sub 
jected  both  herself  and  it  to  perpetual  tyranny. 

Regardless  of  what  may  be  said  of  the  nature  of  this  very 
unusual  right,  it  is  a  fact  that  free  negroes  did  not  possess 
it  until  near  the  end  of  the  slavery  regime.  Before  1856  a 
special  act  was  deemed  necessary  to  render  legal  the  slavery 
of  a  free  negro  who  of  his  own  will  selected  a  master.  A 
number  of  such  private  acts,  making  it  lawful  for  certain 
free  negroes,  whose  names  were  mentioned  in  the  acts,  "  to 
select  a  master  or  mistress,"  were  passed  in  the  first  half  of 
the  decade  of  the  fifties.102  In  1856  a  general  act  was  passed 
making  it  lawful  for  any  free  colored  man  over  twenty-one 
and  any  free  colored  woman  over  eighteen  years  of  age  to 
select  a  master  or  a  mistress.103  A  free  negro  desiring  so 
to  alter  his  status  could  file  a  signed  petition  with  the  circuit 
judge  stating  the  name  of  the  proposed  master  or  mistress. 
The  petition  would  be  posted  for  one  month  at  the  door  of 
the  court-house;  if  the  judge  was  satisfied  that  there  was 
no  fraud,  he  would  grant  the  request  and  fix  a  value  on  the 
petitioner.  When  one  half  of  the  designated  price  was  paid 
into  the  public  treasury,  the  petitioner  became  as  much  the 

101  Acts,  1847-1848,  p.  119. 

102  Ibid.,  1853-1854,  P-  131 ;  1855-1856,  p.  278. 

103  Ibid.,  1855-1856,  p.  37  et  seq. 


absolute  property  of  his  chosen  master  as  if  he  had  been 
born  a  slave.  The  rule  that  the  status  of  a  child  followed 
the  status  of  the  mother  at  the  time  of  the  birth  of  the  child 
was  applicable  to  the  offspring  of  free  colored  females  who 
elected  to  be  slaves. 

Hard  as  was  the  lot  of  some  free  negroes  in  Virginia  be 
tween  1856  and  1861,  the  courts  had  not  many  petitioners 
seeking  the  refuge  of  slavery.  The  reports  of  the  auditor 
who  took  account  of  the  receipts  of  the  treasury  from  this 
source  show  that  not  more  than  a  score  of  free  negroes  took 
advantage  of  their  opportunities  under  the  act  of  1856.  For 
the  year  ending  September  30,  1859,  $2308.91  was  received 
into  the  treasury  as  receipts  of  the  sale  by  the  local  courts 
of  four  free  negroes.104  The  report  for  the  fiscal  year  end 
ing  September  30,  1860,  shows  that  three  negroes  went  into 
voluntary  bondage,  and  that  $902.50  was  received  by  the 
State  from  their  purchasers.105 

Thus  far  in  this  chapter  attention  has  been  confined  to 
the  question  of  the  extent  and  degree  of  protection  over 
property  and  liberty  enjoyed  by  the  free  negro  under  the 
laws  of  Virginia.  A  question  no  less  essential  to  a  full 
treatment  of  the  free  negro's  legal  status  is  the  extent  of 
his  participation  in  the  affairs  of  the  government.  In  what 
capacities  could  he,  and  did  he,  lend  support  to  that  govern 
ment  which  afforded  him  the  measure  of  benefits  already 
described  ? 

From  a  very  early  date  in  the  history  of  the  colony  up 
to  the  close  of  the  Civil  War  military  service  was  required 
of  the  free  negro.  As  early  as  1723  there  were  some  free 
negroes  enlisted  in  the  state  militia,  and  they  were,  for  that 
reason,  permitted  to  keep  one  gun,  powder,  and  shot.108 
During  the  last  war  between  the  English  and  the  French  for 
supremacy  in  America  free  negroes  were  employed  in  the 
Virginia  service  as  "drummers,  trumpeters,  or  pioneers  or 

1M  House  Documents,  1859-1860,  no.  5,  p.  423. 
105  Ibid.,  1861,  no.  5,  P-  652. 
108  Hening,  vol.  iv,  p.  131. 

I  IO  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1661-1865 

in  such  other  servile  labour  as  they  shall  be  directed  to 

In  the  War  of  Independence  the  free  negro  in  Virginia 
performed  a  worthy  and  useful  service.108  The  recruiting 
laws  made  eligible  for  service  "  all  male  persons,  hired  ser 
vants  and  apprentices  above  the  age  of  sixteen  and  under 
fifty,"109  but  did  not  permit  the  enlistment  of  slaves  or  of 
servants  bound  to  serve  till  thirty-one  years  of  age.110  That 
free  negroes  were  enlisted  under  these  laws  there  is  no 
room  for  doubt.  A  letter  written  April  24,  1783,  to  the 
governor  by  William  Reynolds,  commissary  of  military 
stores,  states  that  James  Day  had  been  accused  of  "  trans 
gressing  in  defrauding  a  black  soldier  and  through  a  hasty 
&  rather  unfair  hearing  was  ordered  to  prison  where  he  now 
lies  punishing."111  In  1777  an  act  of  Assembly  designated 
drumming,  fifing,  and  pioneering  for  the  employment  of 
the  free  mulattoes  of  the  company.112  Runaway  slaves  pre- 

10THening,  vol.  v,  p.  17  (1748)  ;  vol.  vi,  p.  533  (1755)  ;  vol.  vii,  p.  95 

108  Cf.    G.    H.    Moore,    Historical    Notes   on   the   Employment   of 
Negroes  in  the  American  Army  of  the  Revolution,  p.  16. 

109  Proceedings  of  Convention  of  Delegates  for  the  Counties  and 
Corporations  of  the  Colony  of  Virginia,  1775,  p.  36. 

uo  Hening,  vol.  ix,  pp.  81,  346,  592;  MS.  Petitions,  Prince  Wil 
liam  County.  The  enforcement  of  this  act  excluding  servants  gave 
rise  to  the  following  statement  of  certain  officials  in  a  petition  to 
the  legislature:  "Jesse  Kelly,  a  mulatto  man  bound  agreeably  to 
act  of  assembly  to  Lewis  Lee  until  the  said  Kelly  should  arrive  at 
the  age  of  thirty-one  years  .  .  .  was  enlisted  as  your  petitioners 
believe  they  had  a  right  to  do  by  act  of  May  session,  1777."  By 
the  act  referred  to,  "  Apprentices  and  servants  could  be  enlisted " 
(Hening,  vol.  ix,  p.  275).  Strictness  was  shown  also  in  enforcing 
the  law  against  the  enlistment  of  slaves.  A  court  martial  was  held 
in  Goochland  County,  March  19,  1781,  to  try  Colonel  Jolly  Parrish 
on  the  accusation  of  having  "  enlisted  a  slave  as  a  substitute  for  his 
division  knowing  him  to  be  so."  Parrish  pleaded  that  he  believed 
the  negro  to  be  a  free  man;  but  the  evidence  showed  the  contrary, 
and  Parrish  was  cashiered  (Calendar  of  Virginia  State  Papers,  vol. 
i,  P.  582). 

1U  Calendar  of  Virginia  State  Papers,  vol.  iii,  p.  472. 

The  following  advertisement  appeared  in  the  Virginia  Gazette  for 
March  7,  1775 :  "  Deserted  the  following  recruits  from  King  William 
County :  Copeland  a  white  man  &  William  Holmes  a  mulatto  about 
45  yrs  of  age  is  about  6  ft  high.  A  Guinea  reward  for  the  white 
man  as  a  Pistole  for  Holmes."  (A  bound  volume  of  the  Virginia 
Gazette  in  the  Library  of  the  Johns  Hopkins  University.) 

113  Hening,  vol.  ix,  p.  268. 


tending  to  be  free  were  accepted  for  enlistment  to  an  extent 
that  demanded  in  1777  an  act  which  required  of  every  negro 
a  certificate  from  a  justice  of  the  peace  that  he  was  a  free 
man  before  he  could  be  admitted  into  the  army.113  Some 
white  slave-owners  preferred  to  offer  their  slaves  as  sub 
stitutes  rather  than  render  personal  service  in  the  army. 
In  order  to  induce  the  negroes  to  enlist  and  to  get  them 
accepted  they  were  presented  for  substitutes  as  if  they  were 
free.  When  the  war  was  over,  a  law  was  passed  to  make 
good  the  promise  of  such  masters  by  declaring  free  all  ne 
groes  who  had  served  in  the  war,  and  by  further  providing 
that  any  such  negro  held  as  a  slave  could  recover  damages 
by  a  suit  at  no  expense  to  himself.114 

There  were  some  free  negroes  in  Virginia  who  took  part 
in  the  War  of  1812.  For  example,  Lewis  Bowlagh,  a  Vir 
ginia  free  negro,  served  for  a  time  in  the  United  States 
army,  and  was  transferred  to  the  squadron  of  Commodore 
John  Shaw,  where  he  served  until  the  close  of  the  war.115 
A  good  many  were  drafted  into  the  Confederate  service  in 
the  War  of  Secession.  All  male  free  negroes  between  the 
ages  of  eighteen  and  fifty  years  were  held  "liable  to  per- 

118Hening,  vol.  ix,  p.  280.  The  Virginia  Gazette  for  April  14,  1783, 
contained  an  advertisement  over  the  name  of  Henry  Skipwith  which 
offered  a  "  handsome  reward "  for  the  apprehension  of  a  mulatto 
slave  who  had  run  away  from  his  master  and  had  been  received  as 
a  substitute  in  the  continental  army.  He  "  reenlisted  for  the  war 
last  fall,"  says  the  notice,  "  went  with  the  troops  to  Winchester 
from  whence  he  deserted.  .  .  .  Since  his  desertion  he  has  cut  off  his 
forefinger  of  his  right  hand  in  order  to  marry  a  free  woman  near 
Pine  Creek  Mill  in  Powhatan  County,  who  had  determined  never 
to  have  a  husband  in  the  continental  army,  and  supposed  this  mutila 
tion  would  procure  him  a  discharge." 

U4Hening,  vol.  xi,  p.  308  (1783).  It  should  be  observed  that  the 
law  held  these  negroes  to  be  free  from  the  time  they  enlisted,  and 
that  it  was  passed  to  protect  them  in  their  right  to  freedom  and  not 
in  any  sense  to  confer  freedom  upon  them.  The  few  slaves  that, 
contrary  to  law,  were  enlisted  as  slaves  were  unaffected  by  this  act. 
To  receive  freedom  for  their  services  in  the  cause  of  independence, 
slaves  had  to  obtain  the  passage  of  special  acts  (ibid.,  vol.  xiii,  pp. 
103,  619;  Virginia  Historical  Collections,  vol.  iv,  p.  309).  See  the 
petition  of  Saul,  a  slave  who  served  in  the  American  army  both  as  a 
soldier  and  as  a  spy  among  the  British  (MS.  Petitions,  Norfolk 
County,  64314).  Compare  also  Petition  64051,  New  Kent  County; 
B  314,  Norfolk  County. 

115  MS.  Petitions,  Henrico  County,  1816,  A  9353- 

112  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

form  any  labor  or  discharge  any  duties  with  the  army  or  in 
any  connection  with  the  military  defenses,  producing  and 
preparing  materials  for  war,  building  roads,  etc."118  Such 
free  negroes  as  were  engaged  in  the  public  service  were 
subject  to  the  military  rules,  which  were  explained  especially 
for  their  benefit  by  the  officers  of  the  army.  In  both  the 
Confederate  and  the  United  States  navies  service  was  per 
formed  by  Virginia  free  negroes.117  The  positions  they 
filled  were  doubtless  of  the  lowest  rank,  and  the  services 
performed  of  a  menial  or  routine  nature,  as  indeed  was  most 
of  their  military  service  throughout  the  entire  period  under 

In  the  matter  of  taxation,  also,  the  free  negro  stood  in 
relation  to  the  government  as  its  supporter.  Far  from  being 
exempt  from  taxation,  he  was  usually  required  to  pay  a 
higher  poll-tax  than  the  free  white  man.  As  early  as  1668 
a  question  arose  as  to  whether  free  negro  women  should  be 
exempted  from  capitation  taxes  as  English  women  were. 
The  legislature  declared  in  an  act  that  they  ought  not  "  in 
all  respects  to  be  admitted  to  full  fruition  of  the  exemptions 
of  the  English,"  and  that  they  were  still  liable  to  payment 
of  taxes.118  In  1769  a  petition  signed  by  free  negroes  and 

"'Acts,  1861-1862;  Senate  Bill  no.  129,  among  pamphlets  relating 
to  the  Confederate  government,  in  Virginia  State  Library. 

Joseph  Tinsley,  a  freeborn  negro  of  Hanover  County,  was  drafted 
into  the  Confederate  service,  and  was  at  first  assigned  to  the  duty 
of  keeping  the  telegraph  lines  in  repair.  He  was  later  pu:  to  driv 
ing  a  government  wagon.  An  aged  antebellum  free  negro  living 
(1910)  at  208  Broad  Street,  Richmond,  says  that  his  father  was 
drafted  for  service  in  the  Confederacy. 

UT  MS.  Petitions,  A  9353 ;  cf.  Hening,  vol.  xiii,  p.  103.  John  Miller, 
at  one  time  a  colored  statesman  of  the  reconstruction  period,  and 
in  1910  overseer  of  laborers  in  the  United  States  Navy-yard  at 
Portsmouth,  gave  the  following  account  of  his  life :  Born  of  free 
parents  in  Portsmouth,  Virginia,  August  15,  1839;  worked  on  a 
farm  when  a  boy ;  served  for  one  year  W.  W.  Davis,  a  groceryman ; 
went  into  the  service  of  the  United  States  Navy  in  1858;  was  on 
board  the  Cumberland  when  it  was  attacked  by  the  Merrimac;  was 
discharged  at  the  expiration  of  his  time;  went  to  Boston,  reen- 
listed,  and  served  to  the  close  of  the  war.  He  soon  got  a  position 
in  the  navy-yard,  where  he  has  since  remained  in  the  service  of  the 
United  States  Government. 

118  Hening,  vol.  ii,  p.  267 ;  vol.  iv,  p.  133.  Only  white  women  and 
children  under  sixteen  years  of  age  were  exempted  from  the  pay- 


mulattoes  was  presented  to  the  legislature  praying  that  the 
wives  and  daughters  of  the  petitioners  might  be  exempt 
from  taxation.119  It  met  with  a  ready  response  in  the  law- 
making  body,  and  an  act  was  passed  which,  after  declaring 
that  the  former  law  was  very  burdensome  to  such  negroes, 
mulattoes,  and  Indians  and  derogatory  to  the  rights  of  free- 
born  subjects,  exempted  "  from  the  payment  of  any  public, 
county,  or  parish  levies  all  free  negro,  mulatto,  and  Indian 
women  and  all  wives  other  than  slaves  of  free  negroes, 
mulattoes  and  Indians."120 

Male  free  negroes  were  of  course  still  subject  to  the  pay 
ment  of  taxes  on  the  same  basis  as  were  white  males.  It 
appears  that  collecting  from  them  offered  unusual  difficul 
ties,  which  the  legislature  endeavored  to  meet  in  1782  by  a 
law  providing  that  any  free  negro  who  failed  to  pay  the 
levies  should  be  hired  out  by  the  sheriff  upon  the  order  of  a 
county  court  for  a  time  sufficient  to  pay  all  back  taxes,  pro 
vided  he  had  not  sufficient  property  upon  which  distress 
could  be  made  for  the  amount.121  In  1787  capitation  taxes 
were  abolished.122  The  burden  of  the  revenue  was  placed 
upon  property,  and  this  burden  was  borne  by  free  negroes 
just  in  proportion  as  they  were  property  owners.  It  does 
not  appear  that  there  was  ever  any  legal  discrimination 
against  free  negroes  in  the  taxation  of  their  property.  They 
paid  the  same  rate  on  their  possessions  as  did  white  prop 
erty  owners.123 

ment  of  poll-taxes,  with  the  exception  of  a  few  individuals  who 
were  exempted  by  special  act  (ibid.,  vol.  ii,  p.  84;  vol.  iii,  p.  259). 
In  the  seventeenth  century  the  taxes  were  principally  polls  assessed 
upon  "  every  master  of  a  family  and  every  freeman."  The  taxes 
upon  servants  were  paid  by  the  master  or  owner  (ibid.,  vol.  i,  p.  143). 

In  1666,  when  the  entire  colored  population  in  Virginia  was  be 
tween  one  and  two  thousand,  there  were  as  many  as  nine  negroes 
in  Northampton  County  who  paid  their  own  taxes  (Virginia  Mag 
azine  of  History,  vol.  x,  pp.  194,  254). 

139  Journal  of  the  House  of  Burgesses,  vol.  v,  p.  198. 
9  Hening,  vol.  viii,  p.  393. 

l^Ibid.,  vol.  xi,  p.  40. 

122  Ibid.,  vol.  xii,  p.  431. 

123  Land  books  of  the  various  counties  of  Virginia,  in  the  keeping 
of  the  state  auditor  of  public  accounts,  Richmond.     For  the  year 
1856  Reuben  West,  a  free  colored  man  of  Richmond,  paid  $17.62  on 


114  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

In  1813,  however,  discriminations  in  capitation  taxes  were 
again  renewed  by  laying  a  special  poll-tax  of  $1.50  upon 
all  male  free  negroes  above  sixteen  years  of  age,  except 
such  as  were  bound  as  apprentices.124  This  rate  was  con 
tinued  till  1815,  when  it  was  raised  to  $2.50  per  poll  and 
applied  to  all  male  free  negroes  between  the  ages  of  sixteen 
and  forty-five.125  The  occasion  for  levying  this  poll-tax 
was  the  need  for  an  increased  revenue  brought  about  by 
the  War  of  1812.  The  reason  for  levying  it  upon  free  ne 
groes  only  may  have  been  a  widespread  desire  and  purpose, 
strong  at  this  time,  to  get  rid  of  them.  A  tax  of  $2.50 
assessed  upon  the  most  active,  and  therefore  the  most  ob 
jectionable,  free  negroes  was  supposed  to  operate  to  induce 
some  to  leave  the  State,  and  to  reduce  others,  who  refused 
to  pay,  to  a  state  of  servitude.126  Rigid  enforcement  pro 
visions  were  made  which  authorized  the  sheriff  to  hire  out 
any  free  colored  tax  delinquent  till  the  required  amount  plus 
five  per  cent  commission  should  be  raised.127  Although 
some  free  negroes  allowed  unpaid  assessments  to  reduce 
them  to  servitude,  these  capitation  taxes  were  collected  with 
remarkable  success.  In  1814  $8322  was  paid  into  the  treas 
ury  by  5547  free  negroes,  or  about  ninety  per  cent  of  the 
male  free  negroes  within  the  taxable  age.  In  1815,  when 
the  rate  was  $2.50  instead  of  $1.50,  as  in  the  two  preceding 
years,  and  only  such  as  were  between  the  ages  of  sixteen 
and  forty-five  were  taxable,  4023  free  negroes  paid  their 
assessments,  which  amounted  to  $10,057.50, — or  a  sum 

real  estate,  the  assessed  valuation  of  which  was  $4420.     Scott  Cle- 
menze,  free  colored,  paid  $22.72  on  property  valued  at  $5680.     The 
free  colored  population  of  Richmond  paid  in  this  year  $286.81  on 
property  assessed  at  $71,702.50. 
mActs,  1812-1813,  p.  20. 

125  Ibid.,    1814-1815,    p.   8. 

126  House   Journal,    1816-1817,    p.   90;    Alexander,    p.   63;    House 
Journal,  1804,  December  3. 

127  Acts,  1814-1815,  p.  61.     If  the  free  negro  failing  to  pay  the  tax 
had  property,  distress  was  made  upon  that  before  hiring  him  out 
(i  Revised  Code,  431).     By  the  Code  of  1860  the  minimum  price 
per  day  at  which  a  free  negro  could  be  hired  to  raise  back  taxes  was 
fixed  at  ten  cents,  and  five  years  was  made  the  limit  of  time  for 
their  collection  (p.  522). 


which  was  equal  to  the  amount  received  into  the  treasury 
from  lawyers'  licenses  or  from  the  tax  on  carriages,  and  was 
one  and  a  half  per  cent  of  the  total  revenue  of  the  State.128 
During  the  three  years  when  free  colored  men  were  paying 
a  high  poll-tax  the  white  inhabitants  were  paying  none. 

The  capitation  tax  on  free  negroes  was  dropped  in  1816, 
after  which  for  twenty  years  the  assessments  made  on  their 
small  property  holdings  were  the  sum  of  their  contributions 
to  the  public  revenue.129  In  1850  a  tax  of  one  dollar  was 
levied  annually  upon  all  male  free  negroes  between  the  ages 
of  twenty-one  and  fifty-five.130  According  to  the  provisions 
of  this  law  and  one  of  1853,  this  tax  was  to  have  been  used 
for  colonizing  free  negroes  in  Liberia,  but  it  seems  that 
only  small  amounts  were  ever  paid  out  for  that  purpose. 
The  disbursements  of  the  treasury  for  the  fiscal  year  ending 
October,  1858,  show  that  $2100  was  the  amount  spent  in 
colonization.  Between  1850  and  1853  less  than  $2000  per 
annum  was  expended  for  the  purpose.  The  balance  of  the 
funds  arising  from  the  taxation  of  free  negroes  remained  in 
the  treasury  for  public  purposes.131  This  levy  continued  in 
force  for  ten  years,  and  was  regularly  collected  from  the 
free  colored  taxables  with  about  the  same  success  that  simi 
lar  assessments  were  collected  from  white  taxpayers.132 

In  1860  a  capitation  tax  of  eighty  cents  was  levied  upon 
all  free  male  persons,  white  and  colored,  above  the  age  of 
twenty-one  years.  The  former  levy  of  one  dollar  per  head 
on  free  negroes  had  not  been  repealed,  and  when  a  question 

^Auditor's  Report  for  1815-1816;  Acts,  1815-1816,  p.  88. 

129  In  the  constitutional  convention  of   1829-1830  Leigh  remarked 
that  free  negroes  were  included  as  taxpayers,  "  though  it  is  well 
known  that  they  contribute  little  or  nothing  to  the  treasury.     They 
should  be  excluded  from  the  lists  of  taxpayers"  (Proceedings  and 
Debates,    1829-1830,    p.    152).    Joynes,    of    Accomac    County,    said 
"  Instead  of  contributing  to  the  revenue  they  are  a  perfect  nuisance  " 
(ibid.,  p.  211). 

130  Acts,  1849-1850,  p.  7. 

131  Auditor's  Report  for  1859-1860,  p.  407;  Message  of  Governor 
Johnson,  in  House  Documents,  1853-1854,  no.  I. 

132  The  average  amount  contributed  to  the  public  treasury  from 
1850   to    1860   by    free   negroes   varied   between   $9000   and   $13.000 
(Auditor's  Report  for  1854-1855,  p.  6;  for  1861,  no.  5,  pp.  653,  669; 
for  1859-1860,  p.  401  et  seq.). 

Il6  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

arose  as  to  whether  one  or  the  other  or  both  of  these  taxes 
should  be  collected,  it  was  decided  in  favor  of  collecting 
both  assessments.  The  collections  at  $1.80  per  head  on  free 
negroes  for  1860  amounted  to  $13,065.22. 133  The  revenue 
act  of  1861  declared  that  no  more  collections  should  be 
made  under  the  law  of  1853,  thus  leaving  the  tax  on  male 
free  negroes  over  twenty-one  years  of  age  at  eighty  cents 
per  poll.134  The  war  revenue  acts  raised  the  rate  rapidly. 
In  1862  adult  male  free  negroes  were  paying  $1.25  per 
capita,  and  the  following  year  $2.  At  the  latter  rate  they 
contributed  in  1863  $11,554  to  the  public  treasury.135  After 
1860  the  poll-tax  assessments  were  uniform  for  whites  and 
free  blacks. 

The  services  of  the  free  negro  in  official  capacities  were 
not  demanded  or  accepted  in  Virginia.  In  the  seventeenth 
century  a  few  seem  to  have  been  entrusted  with  minor 
offices.  The  justices  of  Lancaster  County  appointed  as 
beadle  a  negro  whose  duty  it  was  to  inflict  punishment  by 
stripes  upon  those  whom  the  court  adjudged  deserving  of 
corporal  punishment.136  In  1660  a  testator  nominated  as 
executor  of  his  will  and  as  guardian  of  his  foster  daughter 
a  negro  whose  freedom  was  stipulated  in  the  will.137  The 
court,  however,  did  not  confirm  the  nomination.  In  at  least 
one  instance  in  the  last  decade  of  the  seventeenth  century  a 
negro  acted  as  surety.138  All  office-holding  by  free  negroes 
was  stopped  by  an  act  of  Assembly  of  1705  declaring  that 
"no  negro,  mulatto  or  Indian  shall  presume  to  take  upon 
him,  act  in  or  exercise  any  office,  ecclesiastic,  civil  or  mili 
tary."139  The  penalty  for  violation  was  £500.  Even  the 
ability  of  a  free  negro  to  become  a  legal  witness  was  lim- 

133  Auditor's  Report  for  1861,  no.  5;  Code  (1860),  p.  243  n. 

134  Acts,  1861,  p.  4. 

135  Auditor's  Report  for  1863;  Acts,  1862-1863. 

138  MS.  Court  Records  of  Lancaster  County,  1652-1657,  p.  213,  cited 
in  P.  A.  Bruce,  Economic  History,  vol.  ii,  p.  128. 

137  MS.  Court  Records  of  York  County,  1657-1662,  pp.  211,  217, 
in  Virginia  State  Library. 

138  Ibid.,  1689-1698,  p.  58;  P.  A.  Bruce,  Economic  History,  vol.  ii,  p. 

139  Hening,  vol.  iii,  p.  251. 


ited.140  By  this  law  of  1705,  negroes  were  forbidden  to  be 
witnesses  in  any  case  whatsoever ;  but  it  was  found  that  this 
disability  afforded  a  shield  for  dishonest  free  negroes  who 
avoided  the  payment  of  their  just  debts  for  the  reason  that 
other  free  negroes  were  not  admitted  as  witnesses.  There 
fore,  in  1744  the  law  was  amended  so  that  "  any  free  negro, 
mulatto  or  Indian  being  a  Christian  "  should  be  admitted  as 
a  witness  in  both  civil  and  criminal  suits  against  any  negro, 
mulatto,  or  Indian,  slave  or  free.141  But  to  allow  free  ne 
groes  to  be  witnesses  even  in  civil  suits  to  which  a  white 
man  was  plaintiff  against  a  negro  defendant  was  discon 
tinued  in  1785 ;  after  that  time  they  were  competent  wit 
nesses  in  pleas  of  the  Commonwealth  for  or  against  negroes 
or  in  civil  pleas  where  free  negroes  alone  were  parties,  and 
in  no  other  cases  whatsoever.142 

Before  any  negro  could  become  a  witness  in  any  case  he 
had  to  receive  the  following  extraordinary  charge:  "You 
are  brought  hither  as  a  witness,  and  by  the  direction  of  the 
law  I  am  to  tell  you,  before  you  give  your  evidence,  that  you 
must  tell  the  truth,  the  whole  truth,  and  nothing  but  the 
truth ;  and  that,  if  it  be  found  hereafter  that  you  tell  a  lie, 
and  give  false  testimony  in  this  matter,  you  must  for  so 
doing  have  both  your  ears  nailed  to  the  pillory  and  cut  off, 
and  receive  thirty-nine  lashes  on  the  bare  back  well  laid  on 
at  the  common  whipping-post."143  Some  time  before  1849 
this  special  injunction  against  lying  was  dropped. 

Prior  to  1723  there  were  no  legal  discriminations  against 
free  negroes  in  the  limitation  or  extension  of  the  suffrage. 

140  Andrew  Burnaby  mentions  the  exclusion  of  the  evidence  of 
negroes  as  one  of  the  laws  "  which  make  it  almost  impossible  to 
convict  a  planter  or  white  man  of  the  death  of  a  negro  or  Indian  " 
(p.  54  n.). 

1  Hening,  vol.  v,  p.  245. 

142  Ibid.,  vol.  xii,  p.  182;  I  Revised  Code,  422;  Code  (1849),  663. 
An  interesting  case  arose  in  the  circuit  court  of  King  William  County 
in  1835  in  which  a  white  man  in  an  action  for  debt  against  J.  Winn, 
a  free  negro,  used  as  witnesses  two  free  negroes.     Winn  appealed 
to  the  supreme  court  of  appeals  on  the  ground  that  free  negroes  were 
not  competent  witnesses  in  the  suit.     The  court  sustained  the  negro's 
claim  (6  Leigh,  74). 

143  Hening,  vol.  vi,  p.  107;  i  Revised  Code,  431. 

Il8  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

Elections  in  Virginia  in  the  seventeenth  century  were  con 
ducted  in  a  very  democratic  fashion,  in  this  respect  resem 
bling  mass-meetings  more  than  modern  elections  in  which 
tickets  and  ballot-boxes  figure  so  conspicuously.  The  sheriff 
presided  over  or  governed  the  voters  assembled  at  a  voting 
precinct,  and  determined  the  choice  of  the  electorate  either 
"  by  view  "  or  by  subscribing  the  names  of  the  voters  under 
the  name  of  the  candidate  for  whom  they  openly  declared 
their  preference.144  It  was  the  general  feeling  in  Virginia 
well  up  to  the  close  of  the  seventeenth  century  that  it  was 
"something  hard  and  unagreeable  to  reason  that  any  per 
sons  shall  pay  equal  taxes  and  yet  have  no  votes  in  elec 
tions."145  Hence  all  freemen,  and  servants  "  having  served 
their  tyme,"  were  permitted  to  take  part  in  elections  pro 
vided  they  would  "  fairly  give  their  votes  by  subscription 
and  not  in  a  tumultuous  way."146  There  is  no  reason  or 
evidence  which  would  lead  to  a  belief  that  the  free  negroes 
in  the  colony  were  excluded  from  these  "  free  elections  "147 
to  which  freed  servants  were  admitted. 

In  1670,  in  accordance  with  the  wishes  of  the  representa 
tives  of  the  restored  English  monarch,  but  contrary  to  the 
feelings  of  the  masses,  the  principle  and  practice  of  uni 
versal  suffrage  were  abandoned.  Voting  privileges  were  re 
stricted  to  freeholders  and  housekeepers  of  certain  qualifi 
cations,  with  the  avowed  purpose  of  disfranchising  persons 
recently  freed  from  servitude;  these  were  thought  to  have 
little  interest  in  the  country,  and  "  oftener  make  tumults  at 
the  election  to  the  disturbance  of  his  majesty's  peace  than 
provide  for  the  conservation  thereof  by  making  choyce  of 
persons  fitly  qualified  for  the  discharge  of  soe  great  a 
trust."148  The  disfranchisement  of  a  part  of  the  rabble  was 
a  cause  of  popular  discontent,  a  fact  evidenced  by  the  repeal 
of  the  restrictions  by  the  Assembly,  which  was  under  the 

144  Hening,  vol.  iii,  p.   172. 

145  Ibid.,  vol.  i,  p.  403. 

148  Ibid.,  vol.  i,  p.  403 ;  vol.  ii,  p.  280. 

147 "  Description  of  the  Province  of  New  Albion,"  in  Force  Tracts, 
vol.  ii,  p.  30. 
148  Hening,  vol.  ii,  p.  280. 


influence  or  domination  of  the  liberal  leader,  Nathaniel 
Bacon.149  When  the  conservative  government  regained  con 
trol,  Bacon's  laws  were  repealed,  and  a  statute  was  enacted 
which  restricted  the  suffrage  further  than  it  had  ever  been 
restricted.150  Previously,  freeholders  and  housekeepers  could 
vote,  but  now  only  freeholders  could  exercise  that  right. 

From  the  date  of  this  act,  1676,  to  1723  the  possession  of 
a  freehold  was  a  prerequisite  to  the  exercise  of  the  elective 
franchise.  Although  the  laws  specifically  stated  that  "no 
woman,  sole  or  covert,  infants  under  the  age  of  twenty-one 
years,  or  recusant  convicts,  being  freeholders,"  should  be 
allowed  to  vote,  no  discrimination  was  made  against  free 
holders  of  color.151  The  restrictions  would  not  have  elimi 
nated  all  free  negroes,  for  some  at  that  time  were  free 
holders.  A  freeholder  was  defined  as  a  person  who  had 
"  an  estate  real  for  his  own  life  or  the  life  of  another,  or  any 
estate  of  any  great  dignity,"152  which  meant  that  the  pos 
session  of  almost  any  property  entitled  a  man  to  voting 

It  is  almost  certain  that  some  free  negroes  exercised  the 
suffrage  rights  under  these  provisions,  for  in  1723  a  law 
was  enacted  which  specifically  denied  to  free  negroes  the 
right  to  vote.  The  act  declared  that  "  no  negro,  mulatto,  or 
Indian  shall  hereafter  have  any  vote  at  the  elections  of  bur 
gesses  or  any  election  whatsoever."153  When  this  act  was 
referred  by  the  Board  of  Trade  to  Richard  West  for  the 
consideration  of  its  legal  aspects,  he  remarked :  "  I  cannot 
see  why  one  freeman  should  be  used  worse  than  another 
merely  because  of  his  complexion.  ...  It  cannot  be  right 
to  strip  all  free  persons  of  black  complexion  from  those 

149  Hening,  vol.  ii,  p.  356. 

150  Ibid.,  vol.  ii,  p.  425. 

151  Ibid.,  vol.  iii,  p.  172. 

152  Ibid.,  vol.  iii,  p.  240. 

153  Ibid.,  vol.  iv,  p.  133.    As  revised  in  1762,  the  law  provided  that 
any  free  negro  or  mulatto  or  other  person  not  having  the  right  to 
vote,  who   should   "  presume  to  vote  or  poll  at  any  such  election, 
shall   forfeit  and   pay   500   pounds   of   tobacco"    (ibid.,   vol.   vii,   p. 

I2O  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

rights  which  are  so  justly  valuable  to  freemen."154  His  pro 
test  was  overruled;  but  an  order  was  passed  by  the  Board 
of  Trade  and  Plantations  directing  "  that  a  letter  be  wrote 
to  the  Governor  to  know  what  effect  the  act  ...  by  which 
free  negroes  are  deprived  of  voting  in  all  elections  had."155 
A  draft  of  such  a  letter  was  presented  to  the  board  and 
agreed  to  on  December  10,  1735.  Evidence  is  wanting  as  to 
what  effect  the  act  had,  but  it  marked  the  close  of  the  period 
prior  to  the  adoption  of  the  Fifteenth  Amendment  to  the 
Constitution  of  the  United  States  when  negroes  could  vote. 
By  the  first  three  constitutions  of  the  Commonwealth  of 
Virginia  voting  privileges  were  restricted  to  white  males  of 
certain  qualifications.156 

The  question  whether  the  free  negro  in  Virginia  was  a 
citizen  either  of  the  Commonwealth  or  of  the  United  States 
is  one  that  can  be  answered  only  when  it  has  been  made 
clear  what  is  connoted  by  the  word  "  citizen."  The  free 
negro  was  always  a  person  in  the  eyes  of  the  law,  and  could 
maintain  at  law  certain  rights  of  personal  liberty  and  prop 
erty.  He  was  undoubtedly  a  national,  a  subject  of  Virginia 
and  of  the  United  States.  If  by  the  word  "  citizen "  is 
meant  a  subject  having  full  civil  and  political  rights,  the 
free  negro  was  not  a  citizen  of  the  Commonwealth  of  Vir 
ginia,  for  after  1723  he  could  not  bear  witness  except  in 
cases  in  which  negroes  alone  were  parties ;  he  could  not  be 
a  juror  or  a  judge ;  he  could  not  bear  arms  without  special 
permission,  and  even  though  he  owned  property  and  paid 
taxes  he  could  not  vote  or  hold  office.^ 

If  we  attempt  to  answer  the  question  by  reference  to  the 
statutes  and  constitutions,  we  are  confronted  by  the  use  of 
the  word  "  citizen  "  in  a  variety  of  senses.  In  an  act  of  1779 
it  was  declared  that  "  all  white  persons  born  within  this 

164  E.  D.  Neill,  Virginia  Carolorum,  p.  330;  see  S.  B.  Weeks,  "  The 
History  of  Negro  Suffrage  in  the  South,"  in  Political  Science  Quar 
terly,  vol.  ix,  p.  671. 

155  Sainsbury  Transcripts  from  the  British  Public  Record  Office, 
vol.  i,  p.  158. 

158  Constitution  of  1776,  art.  7;  constitution  of  1830;  constitution 
of  1850. 


Commonwealth  and  all  who  have  resided  therein  two  years 
.  .  .  shall  be  citizens  of  this  Commonwealth."157  This  act 
was  repealed  and  supplanted  by  an  act  of  1783  which  de 
clared  that  "  all  free  persons  born  within  the  territory  of 
this  commonwealth  shall  be  deemed  citizens  of  this  com 
monwealth."158  George  Bancroft  says  that  the  treaty  of 
peace  between  the  American  Commonwealths  and  Great 
Britain  "  as  interpreted  alike  in  America  and  England  .  .  . 
included  free  negroes  among  the  citizens."159  In  1785  the 
General  Assembly  used  the  word  in  a  sense  which  included 
free  negroes  in  the  citizen  body.  A  bill  being  before  the 
Assembly  defining  the  part  of  the  citizen  body  which  should 
have  the  right  to  vote,  and  attention  being  called  to  the  neces 
sity  of  excepting  free  negroes  and  mulattoes,  the  words 
"  every  male  citizen "  were  changed  to  read  "  every  male 
citizen  other  than  free  negroes  or  mulattoes."160  Judge 
Tucker  observed  in  1796  that  "  emancipation  does  not  confer 
the  rights  of  citizenship  on  the  person  emancipated;  on  the 
contrary,  both  he  and  his  posterity  of  the  same  complexion 
with  himself  must  always  labor  under  many  civil  inca 

If  free  negroes  in  Virginia  were  citizens  in  the  meaning 
of  the  clause  of  the  Federal  Constitution  which  provides 
that  "  citizens  of  each  State  shall  be  entitled  to  all  privileges 
and  immunities  of  citizens  of  the  several  States,"  the  con 
stitutional  guaranty  was  of  no  practical  value  to  the  Vir 
ginia  free  negroes  against  discriminatory  action  of  state  gov 
ernments  in  whose  domains  they  might  attempt  to  travel  or 
reside.  "  Citizens  of  the  United  States,"  said  Chief  Justice 
Taney  in  the  Passenger  Cases,162  "must  have  the  right  to 
pass  and  repass  through  every  part  of  it  without  interrup 
tion  as  freely  as  in  [their]  own  States."  In  Crandall  v. 

157  Hening,  vol.  x,  p.  129. 

158  Ibid.,  vol.  xi,  p.  323 ;  vol.  xii,  p.  263. 

159  History  of  United  States,  author's  last  version,  vol.  v,  p.  579. 
-80  House  Journal,  1785,  p.  96. 

, 161  St.  G.  Tucker,  A  Dissertation  on  Slavery,  p.  75. 
162  7  Howard,  492. 

122  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

Nevada163  the  Court  sustained  this  view,  holding  that  the 
right  to  pass  through  a  State  by  a  citizen  of  the  United 
States  is  one  guaranteed  to  him  by  the  Constitution.  But 
throughout  the  first  sixty-five  years  of  the  nineteenth  cen 
tury  every  branch  of  the  government  of  Virginia  partici 
pated  in  making  or  enforcing  restrictions  upon  the  liberty 
of  free  negroes  to  move  from  place  to  place  or  to  go  from 
the  State  and  return.  When  a  bill  was  introduced  in  the 
Virginia  legislature  providing  for  the  deportation  of  free 
negroes  without  their  consent,  the  argument  that  it  was  un 
constitutional  was  feebly  made,  but  General  Brodnax,  a 
leading  member  of  the  House,  scoffing  at  the  idea,  asserted 
that  the  Constitution  was  about  to  be  worn  threadbare.  "  In 
truth,"  said  he,  "  free  negroes  have  many  legal  rights  but  no 
constitutional  ones."  There  is  no  doubt  that  the  opinion  of 
the  tribunals  before  whom  the  legal  rights  of  free  negroes 
were  to  be  tested  and  applied  was  in  agreement  with  this 

168  6  Wallace,  35- 


The  three  principal  elements  in  the  population  of  Virginia 
to  which  the  free  negro  had  to  adjust  himself  were  the 
whites,  the  native  Indians,  and  the  negro  slaves.  A  discus 
sion  of  the  social  relations  of  the  free  negro  class  with  each 
of  these  three  other  elements  of  the  population  of  the  State 
in  the  order  named  may  well  occupy  a  place  of  first  consid 
eration  in  this  chapter. 

If  prejudices  did  not  exist  in  the  minds  of  the  white  in 
habitants  of  Virginia  against  persons  of  the  black  race  be 
fore  the  coming  of  the  negro,  they  were  not  long  in  spring 
ing  up  after  the  two  races  met  on  Virginia  soil.  From  the 
very  first  mention  by  whites  of  Africans  in  Virginia  special 
care  was  taken,  in  writing  or  in  speaking  of  them,  to  des 
ignate  their  race  or  color.  In  the  earliest  records  of  the 
courts  and  the  parishes  they  were  carefully  distinguished 
from  other  persons  by  such  words  and  phrases  as  "  negroes," 
"  negro  servants,"  and  "  a  negro  belonging  to  "  such  a  one. 
As  early  as  1630  the  conduct  of  a  white  man  who  had  vio 
lated  a  rule  of  strict  separation  of  the  white  and  black  races 
was  denounced  as  an  "  abuse  to  the  dishonor  of  God  and 
shame  of  Christians,"  and  in  atonement  for  such  conduct 
the  white  man  received  a  sound  whipping  and  was  required 
to  make  a  public  apology.1  In  the  case  of  a  similar  viola 
tion  of  decency  and  standards  of  race  purity  in  1640  the 
guilty  white  man  was  compelled  to  "  do  penance "  in  the 
church,  and  the  negro  woman  was  whipped.2  So  prominent 
and  uncouth  were  the  physiological  characteristics  and  so 

1  Hening,  vol.  i,  p.  146. 

2  Ibid.,  vol.  i,  p.  552. 


124  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

rude  were  the  manners  of  the  African  emigrants  that  before 
the  end  of  the  seventeenth  century  many  of  the  white  colo 
nists  came  to  regard  them  as  not  of  the  human  kind.3 

This  prejudice  against  the  negro  was  not  the  result  of  his 
servile  station;  for  in  that  respect  he  was  on  a  par  with  a 
large  part  of  the  white  population.  Freedom,  therefore, 
was  not  sufficient  to  make  a  negro  servant  or  a  negro  slave 
the  social  equal  of  the  whites.  By  the  middle  of  the  seven 
teenth  century  there  were  negroes  who  were  free  from  all 
forms  of  legal  servitude  or  slavery,  but  they  were  not  ab 
sorbed  into  the  mass  of  free  population.  Their  color  ad 
hered  to  them  in  freedom  as  in  servitude,  and  the  indelible 
marks  and  characteristics  of  their  race  remained  unchanged.4 
In  1668  the  law-making  body  of  the  colony  gave  unmistak 
able  sanction  to  the  exclusion  of  the  free  negroes  from  social 
equality  in  a  declaration  that  "  negro  women  set  free,  .  .  . 
although  permitted  to  enjoy  their  freedom,  yet  ought  not  in 
all  respects  to  be  admitted  to  full  fruition  of  the  exemptions 
and  impunities  of  the  English."5 

Yet,  in  spite  of  strong  racial  antipathies,  there  were  some 
illicit  relations  between  shameless  white  persons  and  ne 
groes,  by  reason  of  which  it  was  deemed  necessary  as  early 
as  1662  to  enact  legislation  concerning  the  status  of  mulatto 
children.  In  1691  a  law  prescribed  for  "any  white  woman 
marrying  a  negro  or  mulatto,  bond  or  free,"  the  extreme 
penalty  of  perpetual  banishment.6  The  strength  of  public 
sentiment  was  soon  tested  in  the  matter  of  enforcing  this 
law  in  the  case  of  Ann  Wall,  an  English  woman,  who  was 
arraigned  in  the  county  court  of  Elizabeth  City  on  the  charge 
of  "  keeping  company  with  a  negro  under  pretense  of  mar 
riage."7  Upon  conviction,  she  and  two  of  her  mulatto  chil- 

3  M.  Godwyn,  Negro's  and  Indian's  Advocate,  suing  for  their  Ad 
mission  into  the  Church,  p.  23  et  seq. 

4  Compare  G.  Bancroft,  History  of  the  United  States,  ed.  1843,  vol. 
iii,  p.  410. 

5  Hening,  vol.  ii,  p.  267. 

6  Ibid.,  vol.  iii,  p.  87. 

7  MS.  Court  Records  of  Elizabeth  City  County,  1684-1699,  p.  27, 
in  Virginia  State  Library.     In  1737  a  negro  who  attempted  to  assault 
a  white  girl  was  compelled  to  stand  in  a  pillory  for  an  hour,  was 


dren  were  bound  for  terms  of  service  to  a  man  living  in 
Norfolk  County,  and  a  court  order  was  recorded  to  the 
effect  that  in  case  she  ever  returned  to  Elizabeth  City 
County  she  should  be  banished  to  the  Barbadoes.8  Whether 
the  "abominable  mixture  or  spurious  issue,"  as  the  mulatto 
was  called,  was  of  slave  or  free  negro  parentage,  it  was 
equally  detested  by  respectable  white  persons. 

In  the  seventeenth  century  there  were  a  few  free  negroes 
of  exceptional  merit  who  were  accorded,  in  all  relations  not 
involving  or  leading  to  a  blending  of  the  races,  social  privi 
leges  about  equal  to  those  accorded  to  freed  white  servants. 
A  few  were  prosperous  owners  of  personal  and  real  prop 
erty,  respected  by  white  persons,  dealt  with  by  white  men 
in  business  relations,  and  permitted  to  participate  in  elec 
tions, — facts  which  seem  to  indicate  that  for  a  while  the 
prejudices  of  the  white  inhabitants  against  the  negroes  went 
only  to  the  extent  of  preserving  the  Teutonic  blood  from 
contamination,  and  did  not  at  first  deny  to  the  African  free 
dom  of  opportunity  to  take  such  station  in  other  relations 
as  his  individual  merit  enabled  him  to  assume.  At  that 
time  the  theory  that  the  negro  was  fit  for  nothing  but  slavery 
or  some  servile  capacity  had  not  been  so  carefully  elaborated 
nor  so  generally  applied  as  it  was  in  the  eighteenth  and  nine 
teenth  centuries.  Although  precluded  from  the  possibility 
of  intermarrying  with  white  persons,  the  negro  freed  from 
servitude  or  slavery  had  about  the  same  industrial  or  eco 
nomic  opportunities  as  the  free  white  servant.  But  as 
slavery  advanced  toward  a  more  complete  inclusion  and  sub 
jection  of  the  negro  race  in  Virginia,  the  social  and  indus 
trial  privileges  of  the  free  negro  were  gradually  curtailed. 
The  denial  to  him,  by  laws  passed  in  1723,  of  the  right  to 
vote,  the  right  to  bear  arms,  and  the  right  to  bear  witness 
is  proof  of  the  fact  that  prejudice  had  extended  beyond  a 
demand  for  race  separation  and  race  purity  to  an  imposition 
upon  the  negro  of  a  low  and  servile  station. 

"pelted  by  the  populace,  and  afterwards  smartly  whipped"    (Vir 
ginia  Gazette,  August  19-26,  1737;  quoted  in  Virginia  Magazine  of 
History,  vol.  xi,  p.  424). 
8  MS.  Court  Records  of  Elizabeth  City  County,  1684-1699,  p.  83. 

126  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

From  1723  to  the  end  of  the  colonial  period  the  number 
of  the  free  negroes  was,  both  absolutely  and  relative  to  the 
other  populations,  so  small  that  the  social  status  of  the  class 
would  have  been  unimportant  except  for  the  fact  that  preju 
dices  accumulating  in  this  period  were  handed  down  to  the 
time  when  the  free  colored  class  became  numerically  impor 
tant.  Except  for  natural  procreation,  the  principal  addi 
tions  or  recruits  to  this  class  throughout  this  period  were 
the  result  of  illegitimacy.  There  was  no  tendency  to  attrib 
ute  to  a  few  free  negroes  and  mulattoes  of  such  low  origin 
any  higher  social  standing  than  that  occupied  by  more  than 
ninety-nine  per  cent  of  their  race  and  color.  Too  small  and 
of  too  low  an  origin  to  preserve  for  itself,  by  the  formation 
of  an  exclusive  caste,  higher  social  rights  than  slaves,  the 
free  colored  class  was  nevertheless  sufficiently  large  to  pass 
on  to  the  larger  free  negro  class  of  the  period  of  the  Com 
monwealth  all  the  disabilities  and  social  disadvantages  that 
it  had  gathered  to  itself  for  a  hundred  years.  The  freedom 
which  masters  were  to  be  allowed  to  confer  upon  their  slaves 
under  the  act  of  1782  was  the  freedom  of  the  colonial  free 
negro  and  no  more.  Even  those  persons  who  professed  a 
desire  to  apply  to  the  slaves  the  principles  of  natural  and 
equal  rights  had  no  intention  or  desire  to  exalt  the  manu 
mitted  slave  to  social  equality  with  the  whites.  Chastellux, 
travelling  through  Virginia  in  the  early  eighties  of  the  eight 
eenth  century,  noticed  the  inferior  social  status  of  the  free 
negroes,  and  wrote :  "  In  the  present  case  it  is  not  only  the 
slave  who  is  beneath  his  master,  it  is  the  negro  who  is  be 
neath  the  white  man.  No  act  of  enfranchisement  can  efface 
this  unfortunate  distinction."9 

The  free  negro  population  which  came  to  be  numbered 
by  tens  of  thousands  in  the  nineteenth  century  was  as  remote 
from  a  social  plane  upon  which  intermingling  or  intermar 
riage  with  the  white  race  was  possible  as  were  the  slaves. 
"A  companion  to  slaves  .  .  .  forbidden  to  intermarry  with 
whites  or  to  bear  testimony  against  them ;  forbidden  to  learn 

9  Vol.  ii,  p.  99. 


to  read  or  to  write,  or  to  preach  the  word  of  God  even  to 
his  fellows,  to  bear  arms  or  to  resist  assault — in  every  rela 
tion  from  the  cradle  to  the  grave  he  was  never  allowed  to 
forget  that  he  was  an  inferior  being."10  Illegal  marriages 
or  associations  of  whites  with  free  negroes  were  so  disrepu 
table  and  disgraceful  that  they  were  entered  into  by  the  vilest 
white  persons  at  the  peril  of  chastisement  by  privately  or 
ganized  bands  of  white  persons  supported  by  community 
sentiment.11  The  free  mulatto  class,  which  numbered  23,500 
by  1860,  was  of  course  the  result  of  illegal  relations  of  white 
persons  with  negroes ;  but,  excepting  those  born  of  mulatto 
parents,  most  persons  of  the  class  were  not  born  of  free 
negro  or  free  white  mothers,  but  of  slave  mothers,  and  were 
set  free  because  of  their  kinship  to  their  master  and  owner.12 

When  we  come  to  consider  the  social  contact  and  affilia 
tion  of  the  free  negro  with  the  native  Indian,  the  barriers  to 
social  affinity  and  intermixing  of  races  on  terms  of  equality 
are  seen  to  be  less  important  than  those  between  free  negroes 
and  whites.  No  law  forbade  the  intermarriage  of  free  ne 
groes  and  Indians,  and  there  existed  between  them  some 
fundamental  grounds  of  sympathy  and  mutual  appreciation. 
Both  bore  the  marks  of  a  savage  race  and  had  a  colored 
skin;  hence  they  shared  the  racial  antipathy  of  the  whites, 
although  possibly  to  a  different  degree.  Both  were  wanting 
in  experience  and  acquaintance  with  the  manners  of  civilized 
life,  to  which  they  were  being  introduced  through  the  agency 
of  an  alien  race.  Both  enjoyed  liberty  to  go  and  come  at 
will;  but,  unlike  slaves,  they  were  dependent  upon  their 
own  resources  for  subsistence.  Both  were,  in  a  way,  misfits 
and  discordant  elements  in  a  society  organized  as  was  that 
of  Virginia,  on  a  basis  of  slavery, — a  society  economically 
and  politically  complete,  with  a  governing  white  aristocracy 
and  a  class  of  colored  toilers  living  in  a  condition  of  com- 

10  Message  of  Governor  Smith,  1848-1849,  in  House  Journal,  p.  21. 
"  MS.  Petitions,  Amelia  County,  1821,  A  781. 

12  MS.  Petitions,  King  William  County,  1825,  BIIQI;  Essex 
County,  1825,  A  5396;  Halifax  County,  1857,  A  7724. 

128  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

plete  subjection.  While  there  existed  dissimilarities  be 
tween  free  negroes  and  Indians,  there  was  certainly  a  com 
mon  bond  of  union ;  and  it  is  significant  that  in  the  massacre 
of  1622  not  an  African  perished  at  the  hands  of  the  Indians, 
although  there  were  at  the  time  of  the  massacre  more  than 
twenty  negroes  scattered  throughout  the  little  colony.13 

Before  1724  there  were  in  the  colony  some  persons  of 
mixed  blood,  part  negro  and  part  Indian,  called  mustees  or 
mustizos.14  A  number  of  reservations  of  land,  containing 
from  a  few  hundred  to  many  thousand  acres,  were  set  apart  in 
the  eastern  section  of  Virginia  in  the  seventeenth  and  eight 
eenth  centuries  for  the  use  and  enjoyment  of  the  Indians.15 
After  a  time,  these  reservations  became  the  common  homes 
of  free  negroes  and  the  tribesmen  for  whom  they  were  in 
tended,  who  associated  on  terms  of  social  equality.  It  was 
said  in  1787  of  the  inhabitants  of  the  Gingaskin  reservation16 
that  those  who  were  not  entirely  black  had  at  least  "half 
black  blood  in  them."17  The  place  was  called  Indian  Town, 
but  many  of  the  squaws  had  negroes  for  husbands,  and 
Indian  braves  lived  with  black  wives.  As  a  means  of  im 
proving  the  social  order  in  Indian  Town,  the  white  people 
thereabouts  proposed  that  no  negroes,  except  the  husbands 
of  female  Indians,  be  allowed  to  remain  in  the  tribe.  The 
town,  they  said,  afforded  "  a  Harbour  and  convenient  asy 
lum  to  an  idle  set  of  free  negroes,"  and  was  a  great  nuisance 
to  the  public.18 

In  1744  the  Nottaway  and  kindred  tribes  possessed  about 

"McDonald  Transcripts  from  the  British  Public  Record  Office, 
vol.  i,  p.  46;  Hotten,  pp.  218-258;  Colonial  Records  of  Virginia, 
Senate  Document,  1874,  Extra,  p.  61. 

"  "  Such  as  are  born  of  an  Indian  and  negro  are  called  Mustees  " 
(H.  Jones,  The  Present  State  of  Virginia,  p.  37). 

19  Hening,  vol.  ii,  p.  290;  P.  A.  Bruce,  Economic  History,  vol.  i, 
p.  492  et  seq. ;  vol.  ii,  p.  115. 

16  See  Hening,  vol.  viii,  p.  414,  for  facts  concerning  this  reservation 
in  Northampton  County.  In  1769  it  contained  six  hundred  acres. 
The  legislature  then  passed  an  ordinance  providing  for  the  sale  of 
two  hundred  acres  of  this  land,  the  proceeds  to  be  used  by  the  par 
ish  to  provide  for  such  of  the  tribe  as  should  become  public  charges. 
Compare  Hening,  vol.  ii,  p.  13;  vol.  iii,  p.  85. 

"MS.  Petitions,  Norfolk  County,  1787,  64865. 

18  Ibid.,  1782,  B  4865 ;  1782,  B  4845. 


20,000  acres  of  land  which  they  could  not,  according  to  law, 
alienate.19  In  1821  they  still  occupied  3370  acres.  White 
persons  in  the  vicinity  of  this  reservation  affirmed  in  1821 
that  "their  [the  Indians']  wives  and  husbands  are  free  ne 
groes,"20  and  that  they  had  neither  prudence  nor  economy. 

As  late  as  1843  tne  Pamunkeys  possessed  sixteen  hun 
dred  acres  of  land  in  King  William  County.  One  hundred 
and  forty-three  citizens  of  the  county  petitioned  the  legisla 
ture  to  have  the  lands  divided,  saying  that  all  but  a  small 
remnant  of  the  old  Indian  tribe  was  extinct,  and  that  in  its 
place  were  free  mulattoes,  all  of  whom  were  believed  to  have 
one  fourth  negro  blood, — an  amount  sufficient  under  the 
provisions  of  the  code  of  1819  to  class  them  as  mulattoes.21 
"  They  are  so  mingled  with  the  negro  race  as  to  have  oblit 
erated  all  striking  features  of  Indian  extraction.  It  is  the 
general  resort  of  free  negroes  from  all  parts  of  the  country."22 

The  association  and  intermarriage  of  free  negroes  with 
Indians  was  not  confined  to  areas  given  up  to  Indians.  From 
an  early  date  mustees  were  a  small  constituent  element  of 
the  population,  intermingling  with  the  other  inhabitants  of 
the  colony.23  John  Dungie,  an  Indian  of  King  William 
County,  was  in  1824  legally  married  to  Anne  Littlepage,  a 
mulatto  daughter  of  Edmund  Littlepage,  esq.,  a  man  of  con 
siderable  wealth.  "The  husband  was  a  sailor  .  .  .  con 
stantly  employed  in  the  navigation  of  the  Chesapeake  Bay 
and  Rivers  of  Virginia."  His  free  mulatto  wife  was  heir 
to  a  considerable  annuity.24  In  a  case  before  the  supreme 

19  Hening,  vol  v,  p.  270. 

20  MS.  Petitions,  York  County,  1821. 

Hening,  vol.  xiv,  p.  123;  i  Revised  Code,  423. 

22  MS.    Petitions,    King   William   County,    1843,    61207.     Petition 
B  1208  is  a  counter-petition  from  the  chief  men  of  the  tribe,  who 
wish  to  retain  their  lands.     They  admit  that  some  persons  not  of 
their  tribe  are  within  their  boundaries,  but  claim  that  the  inhabi 
tants  generally  are  of  at  least  half  Indian  extraction.     That  mem 
bers  of  the  Pamunkey  tribe  to  this  day  (1912)  bear  in  their  features 
evidences  of  a  mixture  of  the  tribe  with  negroes  may  be  stated 
on   the   authority   of   a  prominent   citizen   of    Richmond   who   has 
observed  them. 

23  Jones,  p.  37. 

24  MS.  Petitions,  King  William  County,  1825,  B  1191. 


I3O  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

court  of  appeals  in  1831  we  find  an  attorney  making  the 
assertion  as  an  historical  fact  that  Indians  had  intermarried 
with  negroes.25 

The  names  "  mustizo  "  or  "  mustee  "  and  "  mulatto  "  were 
not  always  applied  with  discrimination,  the  latter  being 
often  used  where  the  former  should  have  been  applied.26  In 
the  censuses  no  separate  enumeration  is  made  of  the  mus- 
tees,  but  there  is  no  doubt  that  a  considerable  element  in 
the  free  colored  population  of  the  nineteenth  century  was 
of  Indian  extraction. 

The  most  congenial  companion  pf  the  free  negro  outside 
of  his  own  class  was  found  among  his  kinsmen  in  bondage. 
The  larger  part  of  the  free  negro  class  met  and  mingled 
with  negro  slaves  on  a  plane  of  almost  perfect  social  equal 
ity.27  Prior  to  1782  the  fact  that  the  free  colored  persons 
were  few  in  number  would  have  been  sufficient  to  prevent 
the  formation  of  an  exclusive  caste  had  there  been  differ 
ences  between  free  and  slave  negroes  so  radical  as  to  render 
conditions  favorable  for  such  a  development.  Even  when 
their  numbers  became  sufficiently  large  for  the  formation  of 
an  exclusive  caste,  there  were  absent  those  differences  in 
economic  and  political  station  to  make  it  desirable  either  for 
the  free  negro  or  the  slave  class  to  exclude  the  other  from 
its  social  life,  the  freedom  of  the  free  negro  being  in  most 
lines  of  activity  only  nominal.  There  were  lacking  to  the 
free  negro  the  better  education,  the  higher  standard  of 
wants,  and  the  better  opportunities  for  acquiring  wealth  and 
position  necessary  to  supply  an  actual  basis  of  superiority 
and  to  give  him  higher  social  rank  than  that  occupied  by 
the  slave. 

25  Gregory  v.   Baugh,  2.  Leigh,  665;   cf.  also  Jenkins  v.  Tom,   I 
Hening  and  Munford,  123;  T.  Jefferson,  Notes  on  the  State  of  Vir 
ginia,  ed.  1801,  p.  182. 

26  Virginia  Gazette,  December  i,  1782.    A  reward  is  offered  for  a 
runaway  slave  who,  according  to  the  description,  was  the  offspring 
of  an  Indian  and  a  negress;  but  he  is  called  a  mulatto. 

"The  free  negroes  continue  to  live  with  the  negro  slaves,  and 
never  with  the  white  man"   (Chastellux,  vol.  ii,  p.  199). 


Had  it  been  possible  for  the  free  negro  to  hold  himself 
aloof  from  the  slaves,  he  might  have  borne  a  better  reputa 
tion  among  slave  owners ;  for,  as  will  appear  later,  his  con 
nection  and  his  relation  with  slaves  rendered  him  the  object 
of  much  undeserved  suspicion  and  criticism.  To  the  slaves 
themselves  the  free  negro  was  a  welcome  visitor ;  at  feasts, 
barbacues,  dances,  and  negro  meetings  of  every  kind  he  was 
present  to  participate  on  a  plane  of  equality  with  his  slave 
neighbors.  While  very  few  would  have  exchanged  this 
condition  for  that  of  the  slave,  they  rarely  ever  regarded 
slavery  as  the  badge  of  a  rank  inferior  to  their  own. 

It  was  very  common  in  the  nineteenth  century  and  the 
twenty  years  immediately  preceding  for  free  negroes  to 
marry  slaves.  Numerous  instances  can  be  cited  of  mar 
riages  of  free  negro  women  with  slave  men.  A  case  oc 
curred  in  Brock  County  in  i826.28  A  free  negress  by  the 
name  of  Rachel  married  a  slave  in  Alleghany  County  in 
i828.29  Dilly,  a  free  negro  woman  of  Giles  County,  was 
married  to  a  slave  husband  by  whom  she  had  two  children.30 
Similar  examples  may  be  found  in  almost  any  county.31 

Since  the  status  of  the  mother  became  the  status  of  the 
offspring,  it  might  be  supposed  that  free  colored  women 
would  have  had  less  aversion  to  choosing  slave  husbands 
than  free  colored  men  would  have  had  to  marrying  slave 
wives,  but  that  does  not  appear  to  have  been  the  case. 
Numerous  examples  might  be  cited  to  show  that  the  prospect 
of  having  children  who  would  be  slaves  did  not  deter  free 
negro  men  from  marrying  slave  wives.  Rice  Stephens,  a 
freeborn  negro,  was  living  in  Northampton  County  in  1843 
with  a  slave  wife  and  three  children.32  Samuel  Johnson,  a 

28  MS.  Petitions,  Brock  County,  A  2684. 

29  MS.  Petitions,  Alleghany  County,  A  651. 

30  MS.  Petitions,  Giles  County,  1829,  A  6784. 

31  MS.  Petitions,  Goochland  County,   1840,  A  7109.    According  to 
the  story  of  Mary  Winston,  a  free  negro  woman  of  Hanover  County 
still  living  (1909),  her  grandmother  and  great-grandmother  married 

32  MS.  Petitions,  Northampton  County,  64905. 


132  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

free  negro  of  Fauquier  County,  had  a  slave  daughter  who 
became  the  wife  of  a  free  negro.33 

Indeed,  it  is  apparent  that  there  were  not  a  few  free  ne 
groes  who  preferred  a  slave  to  a  free  wife.  Certainly  there 
was  less  responsibility  upon  a  husband  whose  wife  and  chil 
dren  were  slaves  and  were  therefore  supported  by  their 
white  owners  than  upon  one  whose  wife  and  children  had  to 
be  provided  for  by  himself.  "A  freeman,"  says  a  pro- 
slavery  editor  in  1802,  "as  soon  as  he  is  his  own  master, 
marries  the  female  slave  of  some  farmer.  He  cannot  well 
be  prevented  from  residing  with  his  wife.  She  feeds  him 
gratis."**  This  was  the  opinion  also  of  a  later  pamphlet 
writer  who  wrote  under  the  pseudonym  of  "  Calx."  "  Every 
male  free  negro,"  he  wrote,  "prefers  to  have  a  slave  wife, 
and  will  be  so  provided,  if  permitted  by  too  careless  indul 
gence.  In  this  manner  he  will  not  only  have  his  wife  and 
children  supported  by  the  owner,  and  a  lodging  provided  for 
himself,  but  much  of  his  own  food  will  be  obtained  from  his 
wife  and,  directly  or  indirectly,  to  the  loss  of  her  master."35 

In  addition  to  the  temptation  to  free  colored  men  to  select 
wives  who  were  sure  of  support,  and  who  might  even  partly 
support  their  husbands,  there  was  after  1806  another  reason 
why  some  free  negroes  might  have  considered  themselves 
fortunate  to  be  connected  by  marriage  with  a  slave  woman. 
Such  a  family  connection  often  prevented  a  free  negro  man 
umitted  after  1806  from  having  to  leave  the  State,  according 
to  law,  within  twelve  months  from  the  date  of  his  manu 
mission.  If  such  a  free  negro  husband  comported  himself 
well  and  made  a  useful  laborer  in  the  community,  he  was 
sure  to  have  the  good  will  of  his  wife's  master,  to  whose 
interest  it  was  to  keep  his  slaves  contented  in  their  place. 
If  the  free  husband  stayed  in  the  community,  his  presence 
would  not  only  be  a  guaranty  against  his  slave  family  mak 
ing  trouble  for  their  master  by  becoming  runaways,  but  he 
himself  might  also  become  a  useful  employee  of  his  wife's 

33  MS.  Petitions,  Fauquier  County,  1837,  A  5859. 

34  Richmond  Recorder,  November  10,  1802. 

35  "  Calx,"  p.  5  et  seq. 


master.  If  he  was  forced  to  leave,  he  immediately  endan 
gered  the  interest  of  the  master  by  establishing  himself  in  a 
border  State  and  inducing  his  wife  and  children  to  join  him. 
Many  a  free  negro  petitioning  the  legislature  for  permission 
to  remain  in  the  State  made  a  special  point  of  the  fact  that 
his  wife  and  children  were  slaves.36  Many  slave-owners 
endorsed  their  petitions,  and  joined  in  asking  the  legislature 
to  grant  the  privilege  asked  for.  Particularly  was  it  true 
in  counties  bordering  on  Maryland,  Pennsylvania,  Ohio,  and 
Kentucky  that  the  slave-owners  realized  and  were  frank  to 
admit  that  a  free  negro,  though  not  desirable  on  his  own 
part,  was  more  desirable  in  Virginia  than  in  a  border  county 
of  an  adjoining  State.37 

There  is,  however,  nothing  in  the  facts  above  stated,  nor 
in  truth  in  any  authentic  evidence  thus  far  examined,  to 
give  support  to  the  contention  frequently  made  by  slavery 
apologists  in  the  nineteenth  century,  and  to  this  day  not  in 
frequently  repeated,  that  slaves  generally  regarded  free  ne 
groes  as  of  inferior  social  rank.  The  negro  "  aristocracy," 
if  such  there  was,  was  not  based  on  the  superiority  of  slaves 
over  the  free  negroes,  but  on  the  superiority  of  the  wealthy 
planter's  "  servants  "  over  the  "  poor  man's  nigger."38  Thomas 
Bruce,  writing  in  1891  concerning  the  happy  state  of  slavery, 
said :  "  As  a  class,  happier  beings  never  existed,  and  they 
had  a  most  unbounded  contempt  for  a  free  negro  .  .  .  and 
shunned  him  as  they  would  a  leper,  and  even  to  this  day 
that  prejudice  still  exists  in  the  minds  of  the  negro  who  can 
recall  the  days  of  slavery."39  Ellen  Glasgow,  in  her  novel 
entitled  "The  Battle-Ground,"  depicts  Free  Levi  as  a  free 

86  House  Journal,  1832-1833,  p.  201. 

87  Writing  to  the  legislature  to  ask  that  a  certain  free  negro  be 
permitted  to  remain  in  the  State,  fifty-five  slave-owners  of  Harrison 
County  say :  "  He  will  take  up  his  residence  in  the  nearest  point  in 
Pennsylvania  or  Ohio  and  of  course  will  make  occasional  visits  to 
his  family,  and  from  the  clamor  which  is  going  on  in  those  states 
upon  the  subject  of  abolition  we  judge  that  we  should  have  more 
to  fear  from  that  source  than  from  his  being  permitted  to  remain 
among  us"  (MS.  Petitions,  Harrison  County,  1839,  A  8677;  se$  also 
MS.  Petitions,  Cumberland  County,  1815,  A  4728). 

38  A.  Bagby,  King  and  Queen  County,  p.  283. 

88  T.  Bruce,  Southwest  Virginia  and  the  Shenandoah  Valley,  p.  46. 

134  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

colored  man  "  who  shares  alike  the  pity  of  his  white  neigh 
bors  and  the  withering  contempt  of  his  black  ones."40  If 
there  is  a  basis  of  truth  which  gave  rise  to  this  mistaken 
belief  here  and  elsewhere  expressed,  it  is  in  the  fact  that 
slave-owners  disapproved  of  the  association  of  their  slaves 
with  free  negroes,  whom  they  suspected  of  scattering  seeds 
of  discontent  in  slave  quarters.  The  master  of  slaves  did 
indeed  have  a  withering  contempt  for  free  negroes,  but  one 
of  the  reasons  for  such  a  feeling  was  the  realization  that  his 
slaves  might  readily  emulate  the  superior  privileges  of  free 
dom  as  exemplified  in  the  free  negro.  The  slaves,  being 
generally  of  a  docile,  tractable  disposition,  may  have  pre 
tended  to  regard  free  negroes  as  their  inferiors,  but  their 
"  unbounded  contempt "  was  merely  an  echo.41 

From  one  source,  however,  there  sprang  up  in  slaves  a 
certain  dislike  of  free  negroes  with  whom  they  were  required 
to  work,  but  the  feeling  was  quite  different  from  contempt. 
When  free  negroes  were  employed  to  work  for  wages  with 
slaves,  as  they  often  were,42  and  to  do  no  harder  work  than 
the  slaves,  the  slaves  were  sometimes  envious  of  the  free 
negroes  because  of  the  superior  privileges  of  the  latter  in 
the  way  of  recompense.  Such  dislike  for  the  free  negroes 
on  the  part  of  slaves  was  envious  dislike  for  a  superior 
rather  than  contemptuous  dislike  for  an  inferior.43 

40  P.  148. 

"William  Dunston,  slave  of  John  R.  Dunston,  of  Accomac 
County,  married  a  free  negress  whose  name  was  Jane  Jubilee.  In 
this  instance  it  required  not  a  little  determination  and  self-will  for 
the  slave  to  follow  his  suit  to  victory;  for  he  was  constantly  met 
by  his  master's  reproachful  queries :  "  Bill,  would  you  marry  into 
that  family  of  Jubilees?  They  are  free  negroes."  This  incident, 
related  to  the  author  by  C.  C.  James,  of  Northampton  County,  illus 
trates  the  way  in  which  masters  tried  to  create  in  their  slaves  a 
dislike  for  free  negroes. 

42  "  They   [free  negroes]   are  sometimes  hired  for  field  labour  in 
times   of   harvest  and  on   other   particular  occasions"    (Madison's 
Writings,  vol.  iii,  pp.  310-315). 

43  William  E.  Waddy,  esq.,  of  Eastville,  Virginia,  born  in  1827,  and 
familiar  with  the  facts  concerning  the  relation  of  free  negroes  and 
slaves  from  his  boyhood  to  the  close  of  the  Civil  War,  vividly  re 
calls  that  a  distaste  for  working  with  free  negro  hired  laborers  was 
often  manifested  by  slaves.     He  was  unaware,  however,  of  the  ex 
istence  among  slaves  owned  or  observed  by  him  of  a  feeling  of 
social  superiority  over  free  negroes. 


The  acknowledgment  repeatedly  made  by  the  enemies  of 
the  free  negro  is  alone  sufficient  to  controvert  the  traditional 
belief  that  slaves  considered  themselves  in  a  superior  station 
or  social  rank  to  that  of  the  free  negroes.  The  latter  were 
spoken  of  as  "possible  chieftains  of  formidable  conspira 
cies,"  and  "  leaders "  in  servile  outbreaks.44  Mr.  Moore, 
in  the  slavery  debate  of  1832,  said,  "  I  lay  it  down  as  a 
maxim  not  to  be  disputed,  that  our  slaves,  like  all  the  rest 
of  the  human  race,  are  now  and  will  continue  to  be  actuated 
by  a  desire  of  liberty."43  This  assumption  was  constantly 
made  by  both  antislavery  and  proslavery  advocates,  and  par 
ticularly  by  that  portion  of  the  latter  class  who  regarded  the 
presence  of  the  free  negroes  as  a  source  of  danger  to  the 
institution  of  slavery  as  well  as  a  menace  to  the  discipline 
and  control  of  slaves.  Antebellum  free  negroes  and  their 
descendants  still  living  are  very  proud  to  relate  facts  con 
cerning  their  free  ancestry;  and  while  the  most  reliable  of 
the  survivors  of  this  class  admit  that  many  free  negroes 
were  on  no  higher  plane  than  slaves,  they  hold  to  the  view 
that  many  of  the  better  class  of  free  negroes  considered 
themselves  socially  superior  to  any  slave.  This  must  indeed 
have  been  true  of  the  free  negroes  who  owned  considerable 
property,  or  owned  or  hired  negro  slaves  and  servants,  as 
did  a  few  in  the  seventeenth  century  and  many  in  the  nine 
teenth.  It  was  certainly  true  of  some  free  mulattoes  whb 
because  of  their  white  connections  had  received  special  op 
portunities  for  education  and  an  independent  support.46 

Whether  a  free  negro  was  to  be  married  to  a  free  person 
or  to  a  slave,  who  was  legally  incapable  of  making  a  con- 

44  Richmond  Enquirer,  January  18,  1805. 
5  Ibid.,  January  19,  1832. 

49  In  1857  eight 'quadroon  children  belonging  to  Craddock  Vaughn 
of  Halifax  County  made  petition  to  the  legislature  for  permission 
to  reside  in  the  State  notwithstanding  the  law  of  1806,  which  ap 
plied  to  them.  The  petitioners  affirmed  that  they  had  had  every 
care  in  bringing  up,  and  that  they  were  "  beyond  the  sphere  of  the 
free  negro  class  so  degraded"  (MS.  Petitions,  Halifax  County, 
1857,  A  7724).  See  also  MS.  Petitions,  King  William  County,  1825, 
B  1191;  Alleghany  County,  1828,  A  651;  Halifax  County,  1783,  A 

136  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

tract,47  legal  forms  were  adhered  to,  and  the  nuptial  cere 
monies  observed  by  white  persons  were  imitated.  White 
ministers  officiated  at  weddings  of  all  classes  of  colored  per 
sons.  Free  colored  candidates  for  matrimony  obtained  li- 
•censes  just  as  did  white  persons,  and  often  procured  the 
parlor  of  a  white  family  as  a  place  for  the  ceremony.  A 
glance  at  the  records  of  marriages  by  the  ministers  of  Hen- 
rico  parish  from  1823  to  1860  will  reveal  numerous  instances 
of  marriages  of  free  colored  persons  and  a  few  of  marriages 
of  free  negroes  with  slaves.48  Of  six  marriages  solemnized 
by  Rev.  Edward  Peet  in  1831  one  was  the  union  of  free 
colored  persons ;  and  of  sixteen  persons  married  by  the  same 
minister  in  1832,  four  were  free  colored.  In  1829  Rev.  W. 
F.  Lee  married  eight  white  and  two  free  colored  persons; 
in  1833  the  record  was  the  same  as  in  1829;  in  1834  he 
married  ten  white  and  two  free  colored  couples ;  and  in 
1846,  four  white  couples  and  one  free  colored  couple.49 

In  the  seventeenth  century  and  the  part  of  the  eighteenth 
when  the  free  negro  class  was  so  small  as  to  be  numbered 
in  hundreds  there  were  to  be  found  examples  of  well  regu 
lated,  orderly  families,  appreciative  of  the  sanctity  of  the 
family  relations,  in  which  both  parents  were  free  colored. 
The  Northampton  County  records  show  a  few  examples  as 
early  as  i655-50  The  parish  registers  of  the  eighteenth  cen 
tury  contain  numerous  examples  of  free  colored  parents 

'"It  is  agreed  that  slaves  have  no  power  [of  contract].  Hence 
the  marriages  of  slaves  are  void"  (Minor,  vol.  i,  p.  168). 

48  L.   W.   Burton,  Annals   of   Henrico   Parish,   pp.   236-248.     For 
instances   of   marriages   of    free   with   slave  negroes,   see   p.   247 : 
"  Morris  Harris  a  free  colored  man,  to  Patience,  a  servant  to  Mrs. 
Mary  E.  Robinson,  by  Rev.  H.  S.  Kepler,  1855."     "  Servant "  in  this 
register  was  a  euphonious  designation  for  "  slave."     The  entries  con 
cerning  the  marriage  of  a  free  colored  man  with  a  free  colored 
woman  uniformly  stated  that  both  were  free,  as :  "  Ned  lightfoot  and 
Sophy  Buck,  both  free  people  of  color.    License  bearing  date  as 
above."    By  Rev.  W.  M.  Hart :  "  Aug.  16,  1825,  John  Jarvis,  a  free 
man  of  color,  and  Lucy  Marble,  a  free  woman  of  color.     License 
bearing  date  Henrico  Court,  Aug.  1825."    For  another  example,  see 
p.  248. 

49  Burton,  pp.  236-244. 

WMS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1651-1654,  pp.  28, 


whose  children  were  regularly  baptized  into  the  church.51 
When  toward  the  latter  part  of  the  eighteenth  century  and  on 
to  the  end  of  the  antebellum  period  the  free  colored  popula 
tion  came  to  be  numbered  by  tens  of  thousands,  numerous 
examples  of  respectable  free  colored  families  are  to  be 
found.  On  a  petition  signed  by  ninety  free  colored  persons 
of  Richmond  in  1823  there  were  nineteen  families  repre 
sented  by  the  names  of  both  husband  and  wife.52  It  was 
thought  that  a  rather  large  proportion  of  free  colored  fe 
males,  particularly  free  mulattoes,  were  unchaste.53  How 
ever  this  may  have  been,  there  is  ample  documentary  evi 
dence  to  show  that  in  the  nineteenth  century  there  was  a 
certain  large  class  of  the  free  colored  population  the  mem 
bers  of  which  were  respectable  and  observant  of  decency 
and  regularity  in  their  family  relations.54 

Throughout  the  period  of  the  colony  when  the  number  of 
free  negroes  was  comparatively  small,  and  even  in  the 
nineteenth  century  before  the  time  of  the  active  propagation 
of  antislavery  doctrines,  there  existed  little  if  any  prejudice 
against  the  education  of  free  colored  persons.  In  the  third 
quarter  of  the  seventeenth  century  there  was  opposition  to 
offering  baptism  to  negro  slaves  until  it  was  determined  by 
law  that  the  administration  of  the  baptismal  rite  did  not 
bestow  freedom.55  This  objection  did  not  apply,  however, 
to  the  religious  instruction  of  free  negroes  or  negro  appren 
tices.  Before  the  middle  of  the  seventeenth  century  pro 
vision  was  made  by  certain  white  persons  for  guaranteeing 
religious  instruction  and  education  to  negro  servants  who 
would  eventually  become  free.56  In  1654,  when  Richard 

51  Bruton  Parish  Register,  p.  57  ff.     Original  copy,  Bruton  Church, 

52  MS.  Petitions,  Henrico  County,  1823,  A  9335. 
63  "Calx,"  pp.  5-11. 

M  Cf.  MS.  Petitions,  Accomac  County,  A  42. 

M  Hening,  vol.  ii,  p.  260;  Godwyn,  p.  II  ff. 

66  General  Court  Records,  printed  in  Virginia  Magazine  of  His 
tory,  vol.  xi,  p.  281,;  MS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County, 
1645-1651,  p.  82. 

138  THE   FREE    NEGRO    IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

Vaughan  freed  his  negroes,  he  provided  in  his  will  that  they 
should  be  taught  to  read  and  to  make  their  own  clothes,  and 
that  they  should  be  brought  up  in  the  fear  of  God.57 

In  colonial  times  the  Anglican  church  did  a  great  deal  to 
provide  for  the  religious  instruction  and  baptism  of  the  free 
colored  class.  The  reports  made  in  1724  to  the  English 
bishop  by  the  Virginia  parish  ministers  are  evidence  that  the 
few  free  negroes  in  the  parishes  were  permitted  to  be  bap 
tized,  and  were  received  into  the  church  when  they  had  been 
taught  the  catechism.58  It  had  been  a  practice  of  the  seven 
teenth  century  to  stipulate  in  the  indenture  or  contract  by 
which  a  free  negro  was  apprenticed  to  a  master  that  the 
master,  in  return  for  the  negro's  service,  must  provide  in 
struction  in  the  Christian  religion  in  addition  to  sufficient 
food,  apparel,  and  lodging.59  In  1691  the  church  became  the 
agency  through  which  the  laws  of  negro  apprenticeship 
were  carried  out.60  Free  mulatto  children  born  of  white 
mothers  and  any  free  colored  boy  or  girl  without  visible 
means  of  support  were  bound  by  the  churchwardens  to  serve 
white  men  for  a  certain  term  of  years.  The  custom  of  the 
churchwardens  of  requiring  these  masters  to  provide  some 
degree  of  education  for  the  colored  apprentices  remained  in 
vogue  throughout  the  colonial  period,  as  is  shown  by  numer 
ous  orders  of  the  vestry  meetings  and  orders  of  the  county 
courts  for  binding  out  free  colored  children.  For  example, 
in  1727  it  was  ordered  that  David  James,  a  free  negro  boy, 
be  bound  to  Mr.  James  Isdel,  "  who  is  to  teach  him  to  read 
ye  bible  distinctly  also  ye  trade  of  a  gunsmith  that  he  carry 

01  MS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1654-1655,  pp.  102, 

58  Papers  Relating  to  the  History  of  the   Church:   Westminster 
parish,  p.  261 ;  Lawn's  Creek  parish,  p.  289. 

"The  church  is  open  to  them  all"  (Report  of  the  minister  in 
Isle  of  Wight  County,  in  Papers  Relating  to  the  History  of  the 
Church,  p.  274).  As  a  means  of  encouraging  baptism  of  negro 
children,  a  proposition  was  made  to  exempt  from  taxation  for  four 
years  any  negro  or  mulatto  child  baptized  (ibid.,  p.  344). 

59  See  an  indenture  to   this   effect   executed  by   Francis    Pott   in 
1646,  in  MS.  Court  Records  of  Northampton  County,  1645-1651,  p.  82. 

60  Hening,  vol.  iii,  p.  87.  v 


him  to  ye  Clark's  office  &  take  Indenture  to  that  purpose."61 
By  the  Warwick  County  court  it  was  "  ordered  that  Malacai, 
a  mulatto  boy,  son  of  mulatto  Betty  be,  by  the  church  war 
dens  of  this  Parish,  bound  to  Thomas  Hobday  to  learn  the 
art  of  a  planter  according  to  law."62  By  the  order  of  the 
Norfolk  County  court,  about  1770,  a  free  negro  was  bound 
out  "  to  learn  the  trade  of  a  tanner."03  After  1785  the  duty 
of  binding  out  free  colored  children  was  placed  upon  the 
overseers  of  the  poor,  who  required  of  the  masters,  accord 
ing  to  the  laws  and  the  custom,  an  agreement  to  teach  the 
apprentice  reading,  writing,  and  arithmetic.64 

In  the  period  between  the  Revolutionary  War  and  the  be 
ginning  of  the  nineteenth  century  there  were  two  religious 
societies  that  were  very  active  in  teaching  and  offering  reli 
gious  instruction  to  the  free  negroes,  namely,  the  Quakers 
and  the  Methodists.65  The  Quakers  set  free  no  inconsider 
able  part  of  the  slaves  manumitted  in  this  period,  and  the 
various  meetings  took  official  action  to  see  that  negroes  set 
free  by  their  members  were  taught  and  Christianized.66  It 
was  in  accordance  with  the  advice  of  the  yearly  and  quarterly 
meetings  of  Friends  that  the  monthly  meetings  extended 
"a  watchful  care  over  those  negroes  ...  set  free  within 
the  verge  of  the  monthly  meeting,  administering  counsel  and 
advice  particularly  to  those  in  their  minority  "  and  render 
ing  them  temporal  and  spiritual  assistance.67  In  1781  a 

61  From  the  court  records  of  Princess  Anne  County,  cited  in  Vir 
ginia  Magazine  of  History,  vol.  ii,  p.  429.  See  also  MS.  Minutes  of 
Northampton  County,  1754-1757,  p.  100. 

63  MS.  Minutes  of  Warwick  County,  1748-1762,  p.  30,  in  Virginia 
State  Library. 

63  MS.  Orders  of  Norfolk  County,  1768-1771,  pp.  232-233.  See 
also  ibid.,  pp.  n,  91;  Vestry  Book  of  Saint  Peter's  Parish,  p.  135: 
an  order,  1771;  Register  of  St.  Peter's  Parish,  p.  117. 

"Herring,  vol.  viii,  pp.  376-377;  vol.  xii,  pp.  28,  29;  vol.  xvi,  p.  124. 

63  The  friendship  of  the  Quakers  and  the  Methodists  for  the  negro 
was  mentioned  by  Randolph  in  the  Federal  Convention  at  Philadel 
phia,  1787  (Papers  of  James  Madison,  ed.  by  Gilpin,  vol.  iii,  p.  1396). 

c<i  MS.  Minutes  of  the  Hopewell  Monthly  Meeting,  1777-1791,  p. 

6TMS.  Minutes  of  the  Fairfax  Monthly  Meeting,  1776-1802,  p. 
105  (1776),  pp.  no,  243  (1/82)  ;  MS.  Minutes  and  Proceedings  of 
Goose  Creek  Monthly  Meeting,  1785-1818,  p.  533. 

I4O  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

committee  of  Friends  appointed  by  the  Warrenton  and 
Fairfax  Quarterly  Meeting  "  to  have  under  their  Care  and 
labour  to  promote  the  Education  and  religious  Instruction 
of  such  negroes  as  have  been  set  free"  reported  that  aa 
good  degree  of  care  and  labor  had  been  extended,  and  that 
there  still  remained  other  work  along  the  same  line  that 
must  be  done."68  The  Methodists  were  likewise  mindful  of 
the  spiritual  welfare  of  the  negroes,  whether  free  or  slave, 
and  were  so  active  in  the  advocacy  of  the  cause  of  freedom 
that  they  were  denied  by  many  slave-owners  the  opportunity 
of  instructing  slaves;69  but  they  continued  to  offer  private 
instruction  to  free  negroes,  and  to  slaves  when  opportunity 
was  afforded.70  Besides  Quakers  and  Methodists,  there 
were  smaller  religious  societies,  such  as  Moravians,  Har- 
monites,  and  Shakers,  who,  besides  giving  the  negroes  reli 
gious  instruction,  taught  them  many  useful  industries,  and 
even  worked  with  them  in  creating  a  common  property.71 

After  the  fears  of  the  slave-owners  were  aroused  by  the 
Gabriel  insurrection  in  1800  and  by  rumors  of  a  general  out 
break,  it  was  thought  desirable  to  curtail  the  opportunities 
of  the  free  negroes  for  acquiring  a  knowledge  of  books 
which  might  render  them  propagators  of  seditious  anti- 
slavery  doctrines  among  the  slaves ;  hence  the  overseers  of 
the  poor  were  commanded  by  legislative  authority  to  cease 
requiring  the  master  or  mistress  to  whom  a  free  negro  or 
mulatto  child  was  apprenticed  to  teach  the  child  reading, 
writing,  and  arithmetic,  as  had  hitherto  been  the  custom.72 

68  MS.    Minutes   of   Warrenton  and   Fairfax   Quarterly   Meeting, 
1776-1787,  p.  123. 

69  Journal  of  the  Rev.  Francis  Asbury,  vol.  ii,  p.  71 ;  vol.  iii,  pp.  253, 
257 ;  Bennett,  p.  547. 

"What  directions  shall  we  give  for  the  promotion  of  the  spir 
itual  welfare  of  the  colored  people? 

"  We  conjure  all  our  ministers  and  preachers  ...  to  leave  nothing 
undone  for  the  spiritual  benefit  and  salvation  of  them  .  .  .  and  to 
unite  in  Society  those  who  appear  to  have  a  real  desire  of  fleeing 
from  the  wrath  to  come;  to  meet  such  in  class  and  to  exercise  the 
whole  Methodist  discipline  among  them"  (Annual  Minutes,  1787, 
quoted  from  H.  N.  McTyeire,  History  of  Methodism,  p.  381). 

71  Madison's  Writings,  vol.  iii,  pp.  495,  497. 

72  Hening,  vol.  xvi,  p.  124. 


A  more  rigorous  enforcement  of  the  laws  against  unlawful 
assemblages  of  slaves  further  discouraged  efforts  to  give 
instruction  to  negroes,  bond  or  free.  Quakers  were  prose 
cuted  in  court  for  assembling  negroes  for  instruction  in  their 
meeting-houses.73  Probably  owing  to  discouragement  thus 
received  and  to  some  relaxation  of  their  former  zeal  due  to 
other  causes,  the  Friends  were  not  so  active  in  behalf  of  the 
negro  in  Virginia  as  they  had  been  in  the  eighteenth  century, 
although  they  continued  to  hold  a  prominent  place  among 
his  sympathizers  and  helpers.  In  1816  a  committee  ap 
pointed  by  the  Goose  Creek  Monthly  Meeting  to  inquire 
into  the  opportunities  for  education  afforded  African  chil 
dren  in  the  homes  of  Friends  reported  that  "only  two  in 
stances  were  found  of  colored  children  suitably  provided 
for,  and  opportunity  afforded  them  of  acquiring  useful 
school  learning."74 

In  the  nineteenth  century  the  Baptist  Church,  by  a  less 
bold  assertion  of  views  in  opposition  to  slavery  than  those 
advanced  by  Methodists,  avoided  the  hostility  of  the  slave 
owners  which  fell  to  the  share  of  the  Methodists,  and  thus 
gained  the  larger  share  of  negro  evangelization.75  Even 
when  the  laws  discouraged  negro  education,  the  Baptists 
did  much  toward  instructing  free  negroes  privately  and  in 
Sunday  schools,78  and  received  them  into  their  churches.77 
In  churches  where  colored  persons  attended  in  considerable 
numbers  a  section  of  the  pews  was  set  aside  for  their  use, 
and  at  all  times  a  strict  observance  of  the  color  line  seems 
to  have  prevailed.  The  condition  of  the  free  colored  people 
before  1831  as  regards  religious  and  educational  advantages 
is  so  well  shown  by  a  petition  to  the  legislature  in  1823  of 

"See  E.  Woods,  Albemarle  County,  in  Virginia,  p.  in,  for  in 
stances  of  indictments  of  Friends  for  unlawfully  assembling  slaves. 

74  MS.  Minutes  of  Goose  Creek  Monthly  Meeting,   1785-1818,  p. 

75  In  1835  Professor  E.  A.  Andrews  wrote  a  letter  from  Fredericks- 
burg  saying  that  the  "  religious  instruction  [of  the  free  negroes]  has 
fallen,  in  a  great  measure  into  the  hands  of  the  Baptists,  as  in  Balti 
more  it  is  conducted  by  the  Methodists"  (Slavery  and  the  Domestic 
Slave  Trade  in  the  United  States,  p.  162). 

76  Cf   The  Liberator,  July  4  1845. 

"MS.  Petitions,  Floyd  County,  1836,  A  6081. 

142  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

ninety-one  free  negroes  of  Richmond  that  the  document  is 
worth  reproducing  in  full: — 

The  petition  of  a  number  of  persons  of  colour  residing  in  the 
City  of  Richmond,  respectfully  represents :  that  from  the  rapid  in 
crease  of  population  in  the  City,  the  number  of  free  persons  of  col 
our  and  slaves  has  become  very  considerable  and  although  few  of 
them  can  boast  any  knowledge  of  letters,  yet  that  they  are  always 
desirous  of  receiving  such  instruction  from  public  and  divine  wor 
ship  as  may  be  given  by  sensible  and  prudent  Teachers  of  religion. 

It  has  been  the  misfortune  of  your  petitioners  to  be  excluded  from 
the  churches,  meeting-houses  and  other  places  of  public  devotion 
which  are  used  by  white  persons  in  consequence  of  no  appropriate 
places  being  assigned  for  them,  except  in  a  few  Houses,  and  they 
have  been  compelled  to  look  to  private  Houses,  where  they  are 
much  crowded  and  where  a  portion  of  their  Brothers  are  unable  to 
hear  or  to  partake  of  the  worship  which  is  going  on.  Your  Peti 
tioners  consisting  of  free  persons  and  slaves,  have  been  for  some 
time  associated  with  the  Baptist  church.  A  list  of  their  members 
consisting  of  about  700  persons  has  been  submitted  for  his  inspec 
tion  to  the  Head  of  Police  of  this  City  and  no  objection  has  been 
by  him  made  to  their  moral  characters. 

Your  Petitioners  for  these  reasons  humbly  pray  that  your  honour 
able  body  will  pass  a  law  authorizing  them  to  cause  to  be  erected 
within  this  city  a  house  of  public  worship  which  may  be  called  the 
Baptist  African  Church.  To  such  restrictions  and  restraints  as  are 
consistent  with  the  laws  now  existing  or  which  may  hereafter  be 
passed  for  the  proper  restraint  of  persons  of  colour  and  for  the 
preservation  of  the  peace  and  good  order  of  society  .  .  .  your  peti 
tioners  are  prepared  most  cheerfully  to  submit,  and  although  it  would 
be  pleasing  to  them  to  have  a  voice  in  the  choice  of  their  Teachers 
yet  would  they  be  quite  satisfied  that  any  choice  made  by  them  should 
be  approved  or  rejected  by  the  Mayor  of  this  city,  they  ask  not 
for  the  privilege  of  continuing  in  office  any  preacher  who  shall  in 
any  manner  have  rendered  himself  obnoxious  to  the  Mayor,  nor  can 
they  reasonably  expect  to  hold  night  meetings  or  assemblages  for 
Baptizing  but  with  the  consent  of  that  officer.  And  your  Petition 
ers  as  in  duty  bound  will  ever  pray.  .  .  ,78 

78  MS.  Petitions,  Henrico  County,  1823,  A  9335.  Affixed  to  this 
petition  were  the  following  names  of  free  colored  persons  of  Rich 
mond  and  the  mayor's  certificate,  as  follows : — 

"  I  hereby  certify  that  I  have  examined  the  list  of  signatures  of 
free  persons  of  colour  hereunto  attached  and  believe  them  to  be 

"  I  am  of  opinion  that  the  prayers  of  their  petition,  if  granted,  may 
be  productive  of  benefit  to  themselves  as  well  as  to  the  white  pop 
ulation  of  Richmond  and  most  sincerely  wish  them  success. 

Mayor  of  the  City  of  Richmond. 

Free  persons  of  colour  of  the  City  of  Richmond  of  the  Baptist 
denomination : 

Richard  Dye,  Hembrey   Tompkins, 

Teanah  Dye,  Mary  Tompkins, 


Although  it  appears  that  the  bill  introduced  in  the  House 
of  Delegates  granting  the  privileges  asked  for  in  this  peti 
tion  was  lost,  the  negroes  were  enabled  by  some  means  to 
erect  church  houses  for  their  use.  There  were  three  African 
Baptist  churches  and  two  African  Methodist  churches  in 
Richmond  in  the  decade  before  the  Civil  War.79 

When  the  agitation  for  the  abolition  of  slavery  became 
acute  and  antislavery  tracts  and  pamphlets  were  in  wide  cir 
culation  in  the  State,  the  friends  of  the  institution  of  slavery 
became  apprehensive  of  the  evil  which  might  result  from 
the  reading  of  such  literature  by  free  negroes,  and  in  conse 
quence  brought  about  legislation  to  prevent  free  negroes 
from  acquiring  a  knowledge  of  books.79*  The  proximate 
cause  of  legislative  action  was  probably  the  discovery  in 
1830  by  the  mayor  of  Richmond  of  a  copy  of  Walker's  Ap 
peal  to  the  Colored  Citizens  of  the  World  in  the  house  of  a 
free  negro  after  his  death.80  By  an  act  of  April  7, 1831,  "all 

William  Caswell,  Nancy  Ellis, 

Robert  Dandridge,  Phillip  Robenson, 

Martha  Dandridge,  Richard  Vaughan, 

Thomas  Mondowney,  Agness  Vaughan, 

Catherine  Mondowney,  John  Harper, 

Exland  Henderson,  Caesar  Hawkins, 

P.  Wm.  Reynolds,  Fanny  Hawkins, 

Sarah  Reynolds,  James  Greenhow, 

Isaac  Vines,  Alice  Greenhow, 

Nicholaus  Scott,  Minis  Hill, 

Betsy  Scott,  Cas  Hill, 

Mary  Barges,  Isaac  Reynals, 

David  Bowles,  Billy  Swann, 

Susan  Bowles,  Aley  Swann, 

Joseph  Bell,  Edwd.  Lightford, 

John  Peters,  Edward  Casey, 

Agness  Peters,  Nanney  Casey, 

Douglass  Tinsley,  Wilson  Morris, 

John  Green,  Fanney  Drummond, 

Isham  Ellis,  Pleasants  Price, 

and  47  others,  with  certificates  and  endorsements  by  Joseph  Price, 
master  of  police,  and  seven  other  prominent  white  men  of  the  city. 
79  Richmond  Directory,  1852,  p.   165 ;   1856  passim. 
'9a  In  his  message  to  the  legislature  Governor  Floyd  asserted  that 
the  free  negroes  had  helped  to  stir  up  revolt,  and  had  "  opened  more 
enlarged  views,"  and  that  inasmuch  as  they  were  allowed  to  go  at 
liberty  they   could   "  distribute   incendiary   pamphlets    and   papers " 
(House  Journal,  1831-1832,  p.  10). 

*°  Richmond  Enquirer,  January  28,  1830.  Cf .  J.  B.  McMaster,' 
History  of  the  People  of  the  United  States,  vol.  vi,  p.  70. 

144  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

meetings  of  free  negroes  or  mulattoes  at  any  school-house 
or  other  place  for  teaching  them  reading  or  writing,  either 
in  the  day  or  night,  under  whatever  pretext,"  were  declared 
to  be  unlawful  assemblies.  Any  justice  either  of  his  own 
knowledge  or  on  information  of  others  could  issue  his  war 
rant  to  an  officer  authorizing  him  to  enter  the  house  and 
arrest  or  disperse  the  offending  free  negroes  and  to  inflict 
upon  them,  at  the  discretion  of  a  justice  of  the  peace,  cor 
poral  punishment  not  exceeding  thirty-nine  lashes.  If  a 
white  person  attempted  to  teach  free  negroes  for  pay,  he 
was  liable  to  a  fine  of  fifty  dollars  and  imprisonment.81 
After  "  Brother  "  Nat  Turner's  insurrection  the  ban  was  put 
upon  negro  preachers  and  teachers  by  an  act  declaring  it 
unlawful  for  negroes,  whether  ordained  or  licensed  or  other 
wise,  to  preach,  exhort,  or  conduct  any  meeting  for  reli 
gious  or  other  purposes.82  In  the  revision  of  this  law  in 
1842  it  was  declared  that  "every  assemblage  of  negroes  for 
the  purpose  of  religious  worship,  when  such  worship  is  con 
ducted  by  a  negro,  and  every  assemblage  of  negroes  for 
the  purpose  of  instruction  in  reading  and  writing,  or  in  the 
night  time  for  any  purpose,  shall  be  deemed  an  unlawful 
assembly."83  Some  free  colored  persons  who  possessed 
sufficient  means  began  sending  their  children  to  the  North 
to  be  educated;  but  in  1838  all  such  efforts  were  forestalled 
by  an  act  declaring  that  any  free  person  of  color  who  should 
go  beyond  the  State  for  education  should  be  considered  to 
have  emigrated.84  This  was  equivalent  to  a  declaration  that 
no  free  negro  going  out  of  the  State  for  education  should 
return.  It  was  apparently  in  anticipation  of  this  act  for 
bidding  Virginia  free  negroes  to  seek  education  in  the  North 
that  sixteen  free  negroes  of  Fredericksburg,  all  of  whom 
possessed  considerable  property,  petitioned  the  Virginia  leg- 

81  Acts,  1830-1831,  p.  107;  Supplement  to  Revised  Code,  244-245. 

82  Acts,    1831-1832,  p.  20;   Supplement  to  Revised  Code,  246-247. 
In  1834  ten  free  negroes  of  Richmond  complained  in  a  petition  to 
the  legislature   that   the  consequence   of   this   law  was   that  many 
colored  human  beings  were  interred  like  brutes,  their  friends  and  rel 
atives  being  unable  to  procure  the  usual  ceremony  in  the  burial  of 
the  dead  (MS.  Petitions,  Henrico  County,  1834,  A  9483). 

88  Acts,  1840-1842,  p.  21 ;  1847-1848,  p.  120;  Code  (1860),  810-811. 
84  Acts,  1838,  p.  76;  Hurd,  vol.  ii,  p.  10;  Acts,  1847-1848,  p.  119. 


islature  in  1838  for  the  privilege  of  establishing  a  school 
for  free  colored  children  in  their  city.85  They  complained 
of  the  inconvenience  of  sending  their  children  to  the  North 
for  education,  and  very  tactfully  added  that  they  preferred 
not  to  send  them  where  "  they  imbibe  bad  doctrines."  The 
legislature  refused  them  the  right  to  establish  the  school,88 
and  attended  in  its  own  way  to  the  danger  of  imbibing  bad 
doctrines  by  withdrawing  from  free  negroes  even  the  privi 
lege  of  educating  their  children  beyond  the  limits  of  the 
State.  From  1838  to  the  close  of  the  Civil  War  the  only 
educational  advantage  that  could  lawfully  be  given  to  the 
free  negroes  was  strictly  private  instruction.  Rarely  and 
with  difficulty  did  some  free  colored  families  procure  white 
persons  to  teach  their  children  privately.87 

In  view  of  the  difficulties  to  be  met  by  free  colored  persons 
in  the  pursuit  of  learning,  the  discovery  of  a  high  percentage 
of  illiteracy  in  that  class  of  the  population  occasions  no  sur 
prise.  "  Calx,"  writing  in  the  later  fifties,  observed  that 
"the  free  negroes,  as  a  class,  are  ignorant."88  There  were, 
however,  in  1850  a  little  above  one  free  negro  in  six  who 
could  read  and  write.  In  the  white  population  of  the  State 
a  little  more  than  eleven  out  of  twelve  were  literate.  In 
other  words,  about  eighty  per  cent  of  the  free  colored  popu 
lation  throughout  the  State  was  illiterate,  as  compared  with 
eight  per  cent,  in  the  white  population.89  Quite  generally 
throughout  the  entire  period  of  two  and  a  half  centuries 
under  review  free  negroes  and  mulattoes  could  merely  make 
their  marks  in  affixing  their  signatures  to  records  of  legal 
or  business  transactions. 

In  the  fifty  years  before  1861  it  was  the  practice  of  persons 

"MS.  Petitions,  Spottsylvania  County,  1838. 
88  House  Journal,  1837-1838,  p.  248. 

87  Upon  the  authority  of  elderly  men  who  are  able  to  recall  events 
of  the  kst  two  decades  before  the  Civil  War,  it  may  safely  be  stated 
that  white   persons   sometimes   taught   free  negro  children   in   the 
homes  of  the  negroes. 

88   «   /—     1        » 

Calx,    p.  4. 

88  Census  of  1850,  Population,  vol.  vii,  p.  271. 


146  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

opposed  to  the  residence  of  free  negroes  in  Virginia,  par 
ticularly  the  promoters  of  societies  for  colonizing  them  in 
Africa,  to  condemn  them  almost  indiscriminately  as  being 
not  only  morally  depraved  but  economically  worthless.90 
Fortunately  there  are  other  and  less  biased  witnesses  from 
whose  evidence  may  be  formed  an  estimate  of  the  value  and 
merits  of  the  free  colored  class  as  an  economic  factor.  It 
should  be  remembered  that  all  efforts  to  remove  the  free 
negroes  from  Virginia  failed  utterly,  and  with  truth  it  may 
be  said  that  one  of  the  chief  obstacles  in  the  way  of  those 
efforts  was,  then  as  at  the  present  time,  the  demand  for 
their  labor.  Between  1790  and  1860  the  free  negro  class, 
numbering  from  twelve  thousand  to  sixty  thousand,  was  far 
from  being  a  negligible  factor  in  the  labor  supply  of  that 
half  of  the  State  in  which  they  resided  and  to  which  their 
labor  was  accessible.  Any  conception  that  the  free  negro 
was  crushed  in  the  scramble  for  employment  between  the 
slave  and  the  white  laborer  may  at  the  outset  be  banished 
from  mind.  Let  us  see  in  a  general  way  what  were  the  con 
ditions  affecting  the  economic  opportunities  of  the  free  negro 
from  1782  to  the  Civil  War  as  regards  the  character  of  em 
ployment  and  employers. 

The  agricultural  and  especially  the  plantation  work  was 
done  principally  by  slaves.  But  there  was  a  large  element 
in  the  white  population,  even  in  the  eastern  part  of  the  State, 
which  was  non-slaveholding  and  not  devoted  to  agriculture, 
except  in  an  avocational  and  subsidiary  manner.  To  this 
element  belonged  the  larger  part  of  town  and  city  popula 
tions.  Whatever  employment  was  furnished  to  laborers  by 
the  non-slaveholding  class  of  whites  was  open  to  competition 
by  the  free  negro ;  and  his  competitors  were  white  laborers 
and  persons  who  had  slaves  to  hire.81  But  many  non-slave- 

90  Compare  what  William  Jay  had  to  say  in   1835  on  the  char 
acter  and  tendency  of  the  American  colonization  societies,  in  a  little 
book  entitled  Slavery  in  America,  chapters  i-v.     He  quotes  C.  L. 
Moseby's  address  before  the  Virginia  Colonization  Society,  as  fol 
lows:  "This  class  of  persons  is  a  curse  and  a  contagion  wherever 
they  reside"  (p.  12;  African  Repository,  vol.  iii,  p.  203). 

91  Local  newspaper  advertisement,  City  Point,  1800 :  "  Encourage- 


holding  employers  preferred  free  labor  to  slave  labor  be 
cause  of  conscientious  scruples  as  to  the  moral  justification 
of  slavery,92  and  hired  slaves  were  not  well  suited  to  do 
small  irregular  jobs.  Hence  there  was  a  certain  amount  of 
employment  for  which  the  free  negro  had  no  competitor, 
except  the  white  laborer,  or  white  hireling,  as  he  was  some 
times  called. 

Within  this  field  of  demand  for  free  laborers,  where  the 
only  handicap  upon  the  free  negro  in  his  contest  with  the 
free  white  workman  was  race  prejudice,  he  was  easily  the 
winner.  In  the  first  place,  white  men  of  pride,  disdaining 
to  enter  into  competition  with  the  free  negro  for  employ 
ment  open  to  them,  emigrated  to  the  West.  "While  he 
[the  free  negro]  remained  here,"  asserted  citizens  of  Hen- 
rico  County  in  1825,  "no  white  laborer  will  seek  employ 
ment  near  him.  Hence,  it  is  that  in  some  of  the  richest 
counties  east  of  the  Blue  Ridge  the  white  population  is  sta 
tionary  and  in  many  others  it  is  retrograde."93  Governor 
Smith  in  his  message  of  1847  to  the  legislature  said,  "  I  ven 
ture  the  opinion  that  a  larger  emigration  of  our  white  labor 
ers  is  produced  by  our  free  negroes  than  by  the  institution 
of  slavery."94 

Such  white  laborers  as  remained  to  seek  employment  in 
the  State  fared  badly  where  the  free  negroes  were  at  all 
numerous.  There  were  at  least  two  important  reasons  for 
the  free  negro's  supremacy  over  the  white  laborer:  First, 
his  standard  of  living  and  mode  of  living  permitted  him  to 
accept  smaller  wages  than  the  whites  could  accept  and  live. 
Governor  Smith  protested  in  1848  that  in  the  kind  of  work 

merit  offered  to  free  negroes  or  to  persons  having  negroes  to  hire. — 
William  Heth."  The  work  to  be  done  was  ditching  and  draining. 
(Taken  from  a  fragment  of  a  newspaper  accompanying  a  legislative 
petition,  in  Virginia  State  Library.) 

92  MS.    Petitions,   Loudoun   Co.,    1843,   B    1900;    F.   L.    Olmstead, 
A  Journey  in  the  Seaboard  Slave  States,  p.  94;  see  statement  of  Ran 
dolph  in  the  National  Federal  Convention,  1787,  in  Madison  Papers, 
vol.  iii,  p.  1396. 

93  MS.  Petitions,  Henrico  County,  1825,  A  9358,  A  9359. 

94  House   Journal,    1847-1848,    p.   20.     Governor    Smith    reaffirmed 
this  belief  in  his  message  of  1848  (ibid.,  1848-1849,  p.  22). 

148  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

required  in  cities  and  in  odd  jobs  the  free  negroes  "wholly 
supersede  by  the  smallness  and  nature  of  their  compensation 
the  employment  of  white  men."95  Secondly,  the  free  negro, 
being  naturally  of  an  obedient,  tractable  disposition  and  re 
spectful  of  personal  authority,  and  being  hedged  about  by 
numerous  legal  incapacities  and  perils,  was  more  easily  com 
manded  and  directed,  and  was  therefore  a  more  desirable 
servant.  Again,  we  have  Governor  Smith  to  testify,  not  in 
praise,  but  in  blame,  of  the  free  negroes  that  "  they  perform 
a  thousand  little  menial  services  to  the  exclusion  of  the 
white  man,  preferred  by  their  employers  because  of  the  au 
thority  and  control  which  they  can  exercise  and  frequently 
because  of  the  ease  and  facility  with  which  they  can  remu 
nerate  such  services."96 

The  extent  of  the  white  employer's  power  to  command  a 
free  negro  workman  or  servant  was  even  greater  than  that 
of  a  master  over  a  slave ;  for  by  nature  the  free  negro  was 
quite  as  docile  and  as  amenable  to  supervision  as  the  slave, 
and  unlike  the  slave  he  could  be  driven  from  the  job  and  thus 
deprived  of  his  means  of  support.  Hence,  as  a  matter  of 
practice,  the  free  negro  was  not  infrequently  a  better  " slave" 
than  his  kinsman  in  bondage.  Between  1806  and  1860  large 
numbers  of  free  negroes,  when  found  beyond  the  limits  of 
the  counties  or  towns  where  they  were  known  to  have  legal 
residence  rights,  were  hired  out  by  law  as  vagrants.  Upon 
an  occasion  of  a  number  of  arrests,  or  when  such  prisoners 
arrested  at  various  times  had  accumulated,  the  sheriff  held 
a  public  auction,  and  cried  off  to  the  highest  bidder  the  ser 
vices  of  these  freemen  for  a  definite  term  of  months  or 
years,  their  labor  selling  from  a  few  cents  up  to  twenty-five 
cents  per  day.97  Certainly  with  this  system  of  hiring  out 
free  negroes  under  the  vagrancy  laws  nothing  but  "poor 
white  trash "  could  compete.  The  feelings  of  the  white 

90  Message,  in  House  Journal,  1848-1849,  p.  22. 

"Message,  in  House  Journal,  1847-1848,  p.  20. 

97  Hiring  out  free  negroes  who  were  willing  to  be  engaged  by  en 
terprising  white  agents  became  such  a  prosperous  business  that  in 
1852  a  license  tax  of  twenty-five  dollars  was  exacted  of  such  agents 
(Acts,  1852-1853,  P-  15;  1855-1856,  p.  45). 


laborer  in  view  of  the  conditions  were  correctly  voiced  by 
a  white  citizen  writing  in  the  Richmond  Whig,  December 
n,  1845  :  "  Those  whose  hearts  are  now  sickened  when  they 
look  into  the  carpenters'  shops,  the  blacksmiths'  shops  and 
the  shops  of  all  the  different  trades  in  Richmond  and  see 
them  crowded  with  negro  apprentices  and  negro  workmen, 
are  ready  to  quit  in  disgust."  Laws  imposing  direct  restric 
tion  upon  the  economic  activities  and  competition  of  the 
free  negro  were  repeatedly  asked  for,  but  were  refused  by 
the  legislature.98 

Further  light  may  be  thrown  upon  the  character  and  scope 
of  the  economic  need  served  by  the  free  negro  by  summar 
izing  from  many  concrete  cases  the  occupations  in  which  he 
prospered.  From  the  list  may  be  eliminated  lawyers,  doc 
tors,  and,  after  1832,  teachers  and  preachers.  Free  negroes 
were  forbidden  by  law  to  act  in  an  official  capacity,  to  ad 
minister  medicine,  and  to  teach  or  preach  to  persons  assem 
bled."  By  reason  of  a  prejudicial  interpretation  of  the 
laws,  if  not  in  open  violation  of  them,  free  negroes  were 
not  allowed  to  pursue  unmolested  the  business  of  an  inn 
keeper  or  proprietor.100  A  small  part  of  the  free  colored 
class  were  landowners  and  farmers,  having  come  into  pos 
session  of  land  usually  by  bequest  from  their  former  owner. 

88  House  Journal,  1830-1831.  Citizens  of  Culpeper  County  peti 
tioned  the  legislature  in  1831  to  pass  a  law  "  for  encouraging  white 
mechanics  by  forbidding  any  slave  free  negro  or  mulatto  to  be  bound 
apprentice  to  learn  any  trade  or  art"  (House  Journal,  1831-1832, 
pp.  2,  84).  Certain  limitations  were  placed  by  law  upon  the  eco 
nomic  freedom  of  the  free  negro;  but  they  were  ostensibly  for  police 
purposes,  and  only  incidentally  affected  his  freedom  in  getting 

"See  above,  pp.  116,  144. 

100  In  1844  Jacob  Sampson,  a  free  mulatto,  was  ordered  to  show 
why  his  license  of  the  court  of  Goochland  County  for  keeping  an 
inn  or  ordinary  should  not  be  revoked,  and  with  no  charges  against 
him  his  license  was  revoked  without  any  portion  of  the  tax  being 
refunded  to  him.  By  way  of  appeal  to  the  legislature,  he  procured 
testimonials  from  a  number  of  white  citizens  showing  that  he  was 
honest,  sober,  and  of  good  character;  that  in  an  orderly  house 
which  he  had  kept  for  fifteen  years  on  the  "  three  chopped  "  road 
he  had  entertained  persons  generally,  and  stock  drivers  especially, 
in  a  satisfactory  manner.  But  his  appeals  were  rejected  by  the 
legislature  (MS.  Petitions,  Goochland  County,  1844,  A  7113;  House 
Journal,  1844-1845,  p.  37). 

I5O  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

But  the  free  negro  was  in  general  a  toiler.  Tucker  observed 
that  "  the  occupations  of  persons  of  this  class  are  nearly  the 
same  as  those  of  slaves."101  Among  those  petitioning  the 
legislature  between  1776  and  1860  were  the  following, 
enumerated  by  trades  and  occupations :  barbers,  coopers,  car 
penters,  mechanics,  cabinet-makers,  wheelwrights,  chair- 
makers,  bricklayers,  plasterers,  painters,  tanners,  shoemakers, 
blacksmiths,  millers,  sawyers,  wood-dealers,  draymen,  huck 
sters,  gardeners,  confectioners,  bakers,  fishermen,  fishmon 
gers,  oysterers,  commanders  of  boats,  lead  miners,  day  labor 
ers  at  all  work,  body  servants  and  attendants,  household  ser 
vants,  and  washerwomen.  There  were  known  also  to  be  a 
few  merchants  or  dealers,102  a  few  musicians,103  and  a  few 

A  glance  at  this  list  will  reveal  the  reason  why  free  negroes 
flocked  to  the  cities  and  towns.  The  employment  in  urban 
districts  was  in  the  nature  of  job  work  and  service  in  un 
skilled  trades  to  which  the  free  negroes  were  adaptable. 
"Bad  as  they  are,"  admitted  an  unfriendly  critic  in  1859, 
"the  free- negroes  [in  cities  and  towns]  serve  best  in  many 
menial  and  low  stations."105  Furthermore,  as  between  occu 
pations  on  the  water  and  on  the  land,  the  free  negro  showed 
an  inclination  to  choose  the  former.  Tucker  thought  that 
one  reason  why  the  number  of  adult  free  colored  females 

101 G.  Tucker,  Progress  of  the  United  States  in  Population  and 
Wealth  in  Fifty  Years,  p.  139.  In  the  census  enumeration  made  in 
Virginia  in  1782  some  free  negroes  appear  as  appurtenances  of  the 
estates  of  white  persons  (Heads  of  Families,  First  Census  of  United 
States,  1790,  Virginia,  pp.  112-118). 

102  Law  and  sentiment  were  not  favorable  toward  free  negro  deal 
ers,    especially   hawkers   and   pedlars    (2   Revised   Code,  43).     See 
Richmond  Daily  Dispatch,  February  18,  1858,  on  the  whipping  of  a 
free  negro  poultry  dealer  for  stealing. 

103  At  one  time  before  the  Civil  War  the  colored  band  of  the  Rich 
mond  Blues  was  composed  of  free  negroes. 

104  A  free  negro  undertaker  of  Charlestown,  West  Virginia,    makes 
the  assertion  that  before  the  Civil  War  he  buried  the  dead  of  the 
better  classes  of  whites. 

105 "  Calx,"  p.  15.  See  petition  from  Norfolk  to  the  legislature, 
which,  while  pleading  the  cause  of  a  free  negro  who  was  about  to 
be  forced  to  quit  the  city,  pleaded  also  in  behalf  of  "  female  fam 
ilies  "  of  the  city  whom  the  free  negro  had  been  supplying  with 
fuel  (MS.  Petitions,  Norfolk  County,  1834,  B  4566). 


exceeded  the  number  of  adult  males  of  this  class,  while  the 
reverse  was  true  of  other  classes  of  the  population,  was 
that  the  male  free  negroes  sought  a  seafaring  life.106  Bagby 
hints  that  the  negro's  preference  for  the  Baptist  Church  may 
possibly  find  some  explanation  in  his  love  for  the  water.107 
Fishing,  oyster-dredging,  and  working  on  ships  or  boats  as 
servants,  cooks,  stewards,  stevedores,  or  navigators  were  all 
enticing  employments  for  the  free  negro.  Many  of  the  best 
patronized  boats  on  the  rivers  and  bays  were  owned  by  free 
persons  of  color. 

Probably  the  most  prosperous  and  useful  class  of  free 
negroes  were  the  barbers.  Many  of  the  towns  and  cities, 
for  example  Lynchburg  and  Richmond,  were  at  times  almost 
wholly  dependent  upon  free  colored  barbers.108  Reuben 
West,  a  Richmond  free  negro  following  the  trade  of  a 
barber,  acquired  a  fortune  of  several  thousand  dollars.109 
In  his  shop  on  Main  Street  he  ran  from  one  to  four  chairs, 
and  had  as  apprentice  a  free  mulatto,  William  Mundin,  who 
learned,  and  for  a  number  of  years  followed,  the  trade  as 
an  apprentice  to  this  free  black  man.  If  an  assertion  may 
be  based  wholly  upon  the  declaration  of  a  freeborn  and  very 
respectable  negro  yet  living110  who  knew  Reuben  West,  the 
latter  owned  for  a  few  years  two  slaves  whom  he  employed 
at  his  trade  in  his  shop. 

In  some  trades  there  were  free  negro  entrepreneurs,  who      ; 
used  and  directed  the  labor  of  hired  free  negroes  and  slaves. 
A.  E.  Andrews,  writing  from  Fredericksburg  in  1835,  as 
serted  that  "  some  of  the  best  mechanics  of  the  city  are 
coloured  men,  and  among  them  are  several  master  workmen, 

G.  Tucker,  Progress  of  the  United  States,  p.  60. 

108  A    distinguished    gentleman    of    Richmond,    who    in    1912    was 
eighty-four  years  of  age,  asserts  that  in  all  his  life  he  never  had  a 
barber  who  was  not  colored  to  cut  his  hair  or  shave  him.     This  was 
told  the  author  to  illustrate  the  extent  to  which  the  free  negro  was 
relied  upon  in  the  barber's  trade. 

109  Tax-books,   1856,   1857,   1859.     City  Hall,   Richmond. 

110  James  H.  Hill,  227  V   Street,  N.  W.,  Washington,  D.  C,  in 
structor    in   wood-work    in   the    public    schools,    owns    property    in 
Richmond  which  belonged  to  the  Hill  family  of  free  negroes  long 
before  the  Civil  War. 

152  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

who  employ  a  considerable  number  of  coloured  laborers."111 
It  was  no  uncommon  practice  for  free  negroes  to  hire  slaves 
to  labor  for  them.  The  legislature  considered  repeatedly 
the  expediency  of  denying  to  free  negroes  the  right  to  hire 
slaves,112  the  ground  of  objection  probably  being  the  tendency 
of  such  employment  to  cause  the  slave,  commanded  by  one 
not  socially  his  superior,  to  despise  his  slavery,  or  the  oppor 
tunity  in  such  employ  to  acquire  a  knowledge  of  antislavery 
doctrines  and  propaganda. 

How  largely  the  failure  of  all  attempts  to  remove  the  free 
negro  from  the  State  was  due  to  a  fairer  appreciation  of 
his  economic  worth  when  the  value  of  an  individual  was  to 
be  considered  than  when  the  class  as  a  whole  was  under 
review  is  shown  by  the  protests  forthcoming  from  the 
white  inhabitants  wherever  and  whenever  an  effort  was 
made  to  enforce  the  law  requiring  negroes  set  free  after 
1806  to  quit  the  State.113  The  protests  are  hardly  less  sig 
nificant  because  they  attempt  to  have  only  individuals  ex- 
cepted  from  the  operation  of  the  law  than  if  they  aimed  at 
saving  the  entire  class.  In  1810  sixty  persons  prayed  the 
legislature  to  allow  a  free  negro  wheelwright,  "who  will 
benefit  the  whole  country,"  to  remain  in  the  State  and  the 
county;114  and  in  the  same  year  citizens  of  Petersburg  de 
clared  to  the  Assembly  that  the  town  could  not  spare  without 
loss  one  Uriah  Tyner.115  In  1812  a  large  number  of  citizens 
of  Berkeley  and  Frederick  counties  told  the  legislature  that 
"there  is  not  a  human  being  in  this  part  of  the  country 
where  they  [Jerry  and  Susanna,  free  colored]  reside  who  is 

111  P.  162. 

112  The  matter  was  before  the  legislature  of   1841-1842    (House 
Journal,  p.   16)  ;  a  bill  was  introduced  to  prevent  the  practice  in 
1843  (ibid.,  1842-1843,  p.  182)  ;  the  expediency  of  similar  legislation 
was  considered  in  1844  (ibid.,  1844-1845,  p.  66),  but  the  committee 
asked  to  be  discharged. 

"  The  harsh  measures  often  proposed  in  the  legislature  by  those 
who  feel  the  evil  of  their  increasing  numbers,  have  not  been  carried 
into  laws "  because  of  "  the  examples  of  intelligence,  honesty  and 
worth  among  them"  (Message  of  Governor  Smith,  in  House  Jour 
nal,  1850-1851,  p.  30). 

114  MS.  Petitions,  Henrico  County,  1810,  A  9180. 

115  MS.  Petitions,  Dinwiddie  County,  1810,  A  4946. 


opposed  to  their  remaining  in  Virginia."116  The  plea  of  the 
inhabitants  of  Lynchburg  for  Pleasant  Rowan,  a  free  colored 
carpenter  and  mechanic,  was  that  "  his  loss  would  be  felt  in 
the  community  ;"116a  for  Frederick  Williams  that  he  was  a 
much  needed  barber  ;llob  and  for  Ned  Adams,  that  he  was 
an  almost  indispensable  cooper.117  The  people  of  Henrico 
County,  petitioning  for  John  Hopes,  a  free  negro,  said  that 
he  was  a  cooper  "who  would  be  useful  in  any  community."118 
The  same  thing  was  said  of  Daniel  Warner,  a  free  negro 
barber  of  Warrenton,  by  one  hundred  and  twenty  white  peti 
tioners.119  Ninety-five  citizens  of  Accomac  County  declared 
to  the  legislature  in  1838  that  the  services  of  John,  a  free 
negro  sawyer,  "are  much  required  in  his  neighborhood."120 
Henry  Parker  of  Loudoun  County  was  considered  by  his 
white  neighbors  as  "a  good  and  useful  man,"  desirable  in 
the  community  as. a  day  laborer.121  No  better  example  of 
the  economic  value  placed  upon  the  free  negro  could  be 
found  than  the  following  petition  from  thirty-eight  citizens 
of  Essex  County:  "We  would  be  glad  if  he  [Ben,  a  free 
negro]  could  be  permitted  to  remain  with  us  and  have  his 
freedom  as  he  is  a  well  disposed  person  and  a  very  useful 
man  in  many  respects,  he  is  a  good  carpenter,  a  good  cooper, 
a  coarse  shoemaker,  a  good  hand  at  almost  everything  that 
is  useful  to  us  farmers."122 

In  behalf  of  Harriet  Cook,  free  colored,  nearly  one  hun 
dred  white  persons,  among  whom  were  seven  justices  of  the 
peace,  five  ex-justices,  sixteen  merchants,  six  lawyers,  and 
one  postmaster,  made  to  the  legislature  this  petition:  "It 

U8MS.   Petitions,  Berkeley  County,  1812,  A  1980.     Cf.  a  petition 
in  behalf  of  Thomas  Richard,  of  Lee  County,  who,  it  was  asserted, 
could  have  got  every  man  who  knew  him  to  consent  to  his  remain 
ing  (MS.  Petitions,  Lee  County,  1820,  B  1315). 
*MS.  Petitions,  Campbell  County,  1826,  A  3482. 

I9b  Ibid.,  1834,  A  3546,  one  hundred  and  seventy-five  white  peti 

7  Ibid.,  1834,  A  3544,  one  hundred  and  sixty  names. 
MS.  Petitions,  Henrico  County,  1836,  A  9531. 

1  MS.  Petitions,  Fauquier  County,  1836,  A  5848. 

20  MS.  Petitions,  Accomac  County,  1838,  A  88. 

MS.  Petitions,  Essex  County,  1842,  A  5413. 

152  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

who  employ  a  considerable  number  of  coloured  laborers."111 
It  was  no  uncommon  practice  for  free  negroes  to  hire  slaves 
to  labor  for  them.  The  legislature  considered  repeatedly 
the  expediency  of  denying  to  free  negroes  the  right  to  hire 
slaves,112  the  ground  of  objection  probably  being  the  tendency 
of  such  employment  to  cause  the  slave,  commanded  by  one 
not  socially  his  superior,  to  despise  his  slavery,  or  the  oppor 
tunity  in  such  employ  to  acquire  a  knowledge  of  antislavery 
doctrines  and  propaganda. 

How  largely  the  failure  of  all  attempts  to  remove  the  free 
negro  from  the  State  was  due  to  a  fairer  appreciation  of 
his  economic  worth  when  the  value  of  an  individual  was  to 
be  considered  than  when  the  class  as  a  whole  was  under 
review  is  shown  by  the  protests  forthcoming  from  the 
white  inhabitants  wherever  and  whenever  an  effort  was 
made  to  enforce  the  law  requiring  negroes  set  free  after 
1806  to  quit  the  State.113  The  protests  are  hardly  less  sig 
nificant  because  they  attempt  to  have  only  individuals  ex- 
cepted  from  the  operation  of  the  law  than  if  they  aimed  at 
saving  the  entire  class.  In  1810  sixty  persons  prayed  the 
legislature  to  allow  a  free  negro  wheelwright,  "who  will 
benefit  the  whole  country,"  to  remain  in  the  State  and  the 
county;114  and  in  the  same  year  citizens  of  Petersburg  de 
clared  to  the  Assembly  that  the  town  could  not  spare  without 
loss  one  Uriah  Tyner.115  In  1812  a  large  number  of  citizens 
of  Berkeley  and  Frederick  counties  told  the  legislature  that 
"there  is  not  a  human  being  in  this  part  of  the  country 
where  they  [Jerry  and  Susanna,  free  colored]  reside  who  is 

111  P.  162. 

112  The  matter  was  before  the  legislature  of    1841-1842    (House 
Journal,  p.   16)  ;  a  bill  was  introduced  to  prevent  the  practice  in 
1843  (ibid.,  1842-1843,  p.  182)  ;  the  expediency  of  similar  legislation 
was  considered  in  1844  (ibid.,  1844-1845,  p.  66),  but  the  committee 
asked  to  be  discharged. 

113  "  The  harsh  measures  often  proposed  in  the  legislature  by  those 
who  feel  the  evil  of  their  increasing  numbers,  have  not  been  carried 
into  laws"  because  of  "the  examples  of  intelligence,  honesty  and 
worth  among  them"  (Message  of  Governor  Smith,  in  House  Jour 
nal,   1850-1851,  p.  30). 

14  MS.  Petitions,  Henrico  County,  1810,  A  9180. 
115  MS.  Petitions,  Dinwiddie  County,  1810,  A  4946. 


opposed  to  their  remaining  in  Virginia."116  The  plea  of  the 
inhabitants  of  Lynchburg  for  Pleasant  Rowan,  a  free  colored 
carpenter  and  mechanic,  was  that  "  his  loss  would  be  felt  in 
the  community  ;"116a  for  Frederick  Williams  that  he  was  a 
much  needed  barber  ;llcb  and  for  Ned  Adams,  that  he  was 
an  almost  indispensable  cooper.117  The  people  of  Henrico 
County,  petitioning  for  John  Hopes,  a  free  negro,  said  that 
he  was  a  cooper  "who  would  be  useful  in  any  community."118 
The  same  thing  was  said  of  Daniel  Warner,  a  free  negro 
barber  of  Warrenton,  by  one  hundred  and  twenty  white  peti 
tioners.119  Ninety-five  citizens  of  Accomac  County  declared 
to  the  legislature  in  1838  that  the  services  of  John,  a  free 
negro  sawyer,  uare  much  required  in  his  neighborhood."120 
Henry  Parker  of  Loudoun  County  was  considered  by  his 
white  neighbors  as  "a  good  and  useful  man,"  desirable  in 
the  community  as. a  day  laborer.121  No  better  example  of 
the  economic  value  placed  upon  the  free  negro  could  be 
found  than  the  following  petition  from  thirty-eight  citizens 
of  Essex  County:  "We  would  be  glad  if  he  [Ben,  a  free 
negro]  could  be  permitted  to  remain  with  us  and  have  his 
freedom  as  he  is  a  well  disposed  person  and  a  very  useful 
man  in  many  respects,  he  is  a  good  carpenter,  a  good  cooper, 
a  coarse  shoemaker,  a  good  hand  at  almost  everything  that 
is  useful  to  us  farmers."122 

In  behalf  of  Harriet  Cook,  free  colored,  nearly  one  hun 
dred  white  persons,  among  whom  were  seven  justices  of  the 
peace,  five  ex-justices,  sixteen  merchants,  six  lawyers,  and 
one  postmaster,  made  to  the  legislature  this  petition:  "It 

118  MS.   Petitions,  Berkeley  County,  1812,  A  1980.     Cf.  a  petition 
in  behalf  of  Thomas  Richard,  of  Lee  County,  who,  it  was  asserted, 
could  have  got  every  man  who  knew  him  to  consent  to  his  remain 
ing  (MS.  Petitions,  Lee  County,  1820,  B  1315). 
*MS.  Petitions,  Campbell  County,  1826,  A  3482. 

I6b  Ibid.,  1834,  A  3546,  one  hundred  and  seventy-five  white  peti 

7  Ibid.,  1834,  A  3544,  one  hundred  and  sixty  names. 
MS.  Petitions,  Henrico  County,  1836,  A  9531. 

1  MS.  Petitions,  Fauquier  County,  1836,  A  5848. 

*  MS.  Petitions,  Accomac  County,  1838,  A  88. 

"  MS.  Petitions,  Loudoun  County,  1848,  B  1961 ;  1849,  B  1971. 

122  MS.  Petitions,  Essex  County,  1842,  A  5413. 

156  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

the  terms  of  the  act  placed  a  penalty  upon  white  persons 
employing  a  free  colored  person  not  known  to  be  a  resident 
of  the  county  or  town  in  which  the  employer  lived,  thus 
narrowly  limiting  the  scope  of  industrial  activity  of  every 
free  negro  to  his  home  town  or  county  unless  he  ventured 
abroad  to  face  conditions  of  employment  doubly  hazardous. 
Five  years  later  an  act  made  unlawful  the  permanent  resi 
dence  in  Virginia  of  any  slave  set  free  after  May  I,  1806. 
For  a  number  of  years  there  was  almost  no  effort  made  to 
punish  violators  of  this  law ;  consequently  there  accumulated 
a  considerable  number  of  free  colored  persons  who  were  not 
by  law  entitled  to  reside  in  the  State.  By  and  by  spasmodic 
efforts  began  to  be  made  to  give  the  act  life.  The  efforts 
were  not  such  as  to  prevent  the  increase  of  this  expatriated 
class  by  means  of  manumission,  but  were  sufficient  to  incite 
many  of  them  to  leave  a  community  in  which  they  were 
threatened  or  molested,  and  to  seek  safety  and  a  means  of 
subsistence  elsewhere  in  the  State.  Some  who  were  forced 
to  move  by  the  operation  of  this  law  were  kept  from  settling 
by  the  above-mentioned  prohibitions  upon  white  employers 
to  furnish  them  work.  By  1860  probably  from  one  fourth 
to  one  third  of  the  free  colored  population  in  Virginia  were 
unlawful  residents  under  the  provisions  of  the  act  of  1806. 
How  little  wonder  it  is  that  a  colored  population,  facing 
the  adverse  industrial  conditions  which  produced  the  "  poor 
whites,"  and  contending  furthermore  with  every  obstruction 
to  economic  freedom  that  laws  could  provide  short  of  slav 
ery,  furnished  many  recruits  for  a  class  of  negroes  that 
were  idle,  vagrant,  and  parasitical  in  their  method  of  ob 
taining  a  living. 

In  passing  now  to  a  discussion  of  the  moral  character  of 
the  free  negro,  we  must  avoid  the  error  of  his  unfriendly 
contemporary  critics  who  judged  him  solely  by  that  portion 
of  his  class  which  was  wandering  through  or  living  in  the 
State  without  employment.  If  we  have  in  mind  only  this 
idle  set  of  vagabond  free  negroes,  it  would  indeed  be  difficult 


to  exaggerate  the  moral  degradation  into  which  they  fell. 
It  is  well  worth  while  to  take  notice  of  some  of  the  many 
adverse  criticisms  of  the  Virginia  free  negro  by  persons  and 
societies  unfriendly  to  him,  because  such  characterizations 
may  be  justly  applied  to  the  worst  element  of  the  free  col 
ored  population. 

A  petition  of  the  Virginia  Colonization  Society  for  legis 
lation  in  aid  of  efforts  to  remove  the  free  negroes  declared 
in  1833  that  "the  free  negro  is  degraded,  vicious  and  crimi 
nal."132  In  1846  Governor  Smith  asserted  that  "  our  crimi 
nal  statistics  .  .  .  demonstrate  the  moral  degradation  of  the 
free  negro,  the  hopelessness  of  his  reform,  the  mischievous 
influence  of  his  associations."133  Again,  in  1847  Governor 
Smith  characterized  the  free  negro  class  as  "  a  race  of  idlers, 
thriftless  and  unproductive  ;  they  labor  only  from  necessity, 
are  content  to  put  up  with  only  a  meagre  supply  of  wants, 
prowl  at  dead  of  night  and  filch  the  labor  of  others."134 
Olmstead  found  a  Virginia  slave-owner  who  contended  with 
him  that  the  free  negroes  were  "a  miserable  set  of  vaga 
bonds,  drunken,  vicious,  worse  than  those  who  are  retained 
in  slavery."135  C.  L.  Moseby,  in  a  speech  before  the  Vir 
ginia  Colonization  Society,  characterized  the  free  colored 
class  as  "  a  large  mass  of  human  beings  who  hang  as  a  vile 
excrescence  upon  society."136  General  Mercer,  vice-presi 
dent  of  the  society,  described  the  class  as  "  a  horde  of  mis 
erable  people  —  the  objects  of  universal  suspicion  —  subsist 
ing  by  plunder."137 

133  MS.  Petitions,  Henrico  County,  1833,  A  9456. 

133  House  Journal,  1846-1847,  p.  9. 

134  Ibid.,   1847-1848,  p.  20.     But  Governor  Smith's  generalizations 
were  not  expressed  in  words  which  conceal  his  prejudiced  point  of 
view.     Having  declared  that  the  free  negro  was  "  a  moral  leper," 
he  added  :  "  That  he  will  prove  the  ready  instrument  of  those  to  be 
found  in  certain  sections  of  our  Union,  who  would  kindle  into  flame 
our  social  edifice,  cannot  be  doubted,"  thus  revealing  a  strong  motive 
for  rinding  fault  with  the   free  negro  character    (ibid.,   1846-1847, 

130  Address  before  the  Virginia  Colonization  Society,  quoted  from 
Jay,  Slavery  in  America,  p.  12;  African  Repository,  vol.  iii,  p.  203. 
137  African  Repository,  vol.  ii,  p.  189. 

158  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

A  few  of  the  free  negro's  critics  were  more  discriminat 
ing,  and  by  carefully  confining  their  criticisms  to  the  lowest 
stratum  of  the  free  negro  class  they  afford  additional  proof 
that  persons  or  societies  who  indiscriminately  condemned  all 
free  negroes  were  judging  the  whole  in  view  of  only  its 
worst  part.  For  an  example  of  the  more  conservative  opin 
ion  of  the  degradation  of  the  free  negroes  we  may  note  the 
petition  of  the  county  court  of  Loudoun  County  to  the  legis 
lature  in  1836:  "It  is  a  curious  fact  that  this  unfortunate 
and  degraded  population,  unwilling  to  leave  the  state  ;  and 
placing  itself  in  a  condition  to  elude  the  officers  of  justice 
by  flying  from  neighborhood  to  neighborhood  and  from 
county  to  county,  is  restrained  from  making  permanent  set 
tlements;  and  is  thus  actually  legislated  into  poverty,  va 
grancy,  and  crime."138 

In  the  debate  of  1832  Thomas  Marshall  with  truth  and 
with  a  discernment  not  usual  with  those  who  attempted  to 
solve  the  free  negro  problem  declared  that  in  proportion  as 
they  were  idle  they  were  mischievous.139  Professor  Thomas 
R.  Dew  saw  the  close  relation  which  the  crimes  and  moral 
degradation  of  free  negroes  bore  to  their  poverty  and  want, 
and  explained  it  thus  :  "  Idleness  generates  want,  want  gives 
rise  to  temptation,  and  strong  temptation  makes  the  crimi 
nal."140  The  wisdom  of  these  observations  is  abundantly 
verified  when  we  turn  to  the  record  of  free  negroes  who 
were  able  to  find  remunerative  employment  in  a  tolerant 
community.  In  the  place  of  such  descriptive  words  as  "  de 
graded,"  "  idle,"  "  vicious,"  "  drunken,"  "  dishonest,"  which 
filled  the  memorials  of  the  colonizers,  there  appear  such 
phrases  as  "  a  man  of  integrity  and  honesty,"141  "  honest  and 
prosperous  man,"142  "  gentility,  trustworthiness  and  skill."143 
In  1810  some  of  the  most  prominent  citizens  of  Accomac 
County  certified  to  the  legislature  that  Jingo,  a  free  negro, 

138  MS.  Petitions,  Loudoun  County,,  1836,  B  1849. 

139  Richmond  Enquirer,  February  14,  1832. 

140  P.  83. 

141  MS.  Petitions,  Campbell  County,  1822,  A  3460. 

142  Ibid.,  1851,  A  3684. 

143  MS.  Petitions,  Loudoun  County,  1850,  B  1988. 


"hath  uniformly  supported  an  excellent  character  for  so 
briety,  honesty  and  industry  and  that  he  hath  a  wife  and  five 
children.  .  .  .  His  wife  is  a  woman  of  good  character.  .  .  . 
The  husband  and  wife  have  provided  well  for  their  children 
and  bring  them  up  in  a  moral  way."144  Even  among  the 
class  of  whites  who  were  hostile  to  the  continued  existence 
of  the  free  negroes  in  Virginia  there  was  an  occasional  wit 
ness  to  the  fact  that  "  examples  of  intelligence,  honesty  and 
worth  are  not  lacking  among  them,"145  and  that  "  there  are 
many  of  better  habits — and  a  few  who  are  industrious,  provi 
dent  and  even  worthy  and  useful  ;"146  and  a  traveller  from 
a  Northern  State  expressed  the  opinion  that  "  the  free  blacks 
are  more  moral  and  respectable  than  many  among  the  lowest 
class  of  whites."147  In  view  of  the  various  conflicting  as 
sertions  we  are  led  to  give  credit  to  the  recollections  of 
respectable  free  negroes  still  living,  who  insist  on  dividing 
the  free  negroes,  on  a  moral  and  social  basis,  into  two  classes, 
the  upper  one  of  which  was  thoroughly  respectable,  law- 
abiding,  and  prosperous,  while  to  the  lower  element  prop 
erly  belongs  the  reputation  for  being  evil  associates  and 
corruptors  of  slaves,  and  parasites  on  the  community  in 
which  they  lived.148  Persons  of  the  former  class  were  des 
ignated  by  the  respectful  name  of  "  men  of  color ; "  indi 
viduals  of  the  latter  class  were  called  "  free  niggers."149 
The  foregoing  remarks  on  the  moral  character  of  the  free 

144  MS.  Petitions,  Accomac  County,  1810,  A  42. 

145  Governor  Floyd's  message,  in  House  Journal,  1850-1851,  p.  30. 

1 "  Calx,"  p.  5.  In  his  essay,  written  about  1859,  Calx  proposed  a 
scheme  for  reducing  the  number  of  free  negroes  by  making  a  lack 
of  employment  evidence  of  guilt  sufficient  to  authorize  sale  into  slav 
ery  as  a  punishment  He  opposed  any  indiscriminate  sale  or  re 
moval  of  both  good  and  bad. 

147  Andrews,  p.  162. 

148  This  is  the  testimony  of  William  Mundin,  born  1839,  now  living 
(1911)  in  Richmond. 

149  Interview  with  Richard  A.  Tucker,  13  Suffolk  Street,  Norfolk, 
Virginia.    Judge  Crothers,  of  Portsmouth,  recalled  that  when  he 
was  a  boy  going  to  school  four  miles  from  his  home  in  Isle  of 
Wight  County  he  passed  on  the  way  five  families  of  free  negroes. 
"  They  were  respectable,  respected,  and  fairly  well-to-do."     As  far 
as  he  knew,  there  was  no  desire  on  the  part  of  the  white  persons 
of  the  community  to  be  rid  of  them  (interview,  Portsmouth,  Jan 
uary  4,  1911). 

l6o  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

negro  have  been  made  touching  his  deportment  in  general. 
To  be  able  to  determine  what  measure  of  justification  there 
was  for  a  vast  deal  of  legislation  imposing  special  limita 
tions  and  restrictions  upon  his  conduct  inquiry  must  be 
made  specifically  into  the  truth  of  a  few  of  the  oft-repeated 
charges  and  indictments  upon  which  discriminatory  legisla 
tion  was  based.  The  four  charges  which  were  made  with 
most  telling  effect  were:  (i)  that  he  was  a  thief  and  a  re 
ceiver  of  stolen  goods;  (2)  that  he  was  criminally  disposed 
in  an  unusual  degree;  (3)  that  he  was  insurrectionary;  and 
(4)  that  he  was  lazy  and  improvident. 

First,  then,  as  to  his  propensity  to  steal.  That  the  free 
negro  class  produced  a  rather  disproportionate  number  of 
thieves  should  not  be  doubted,  but  that  the  free  negroes  were 
worse  in  this  respect  than  the  slaves,  or  that  they  were  worse 
than  so  many  white  persons  would  have  become  if  placed  in 
their  circumstances  and  forced  to  remain  there,  is  by  no 
means  proved.  Jefferson  observed  with  truth  that  "  a  man's 
moral  sense  must  be  unusually  strong  if  slavery  does  not 
make  him  a  thief."150  While  many  of  the  free  negroes  of 
the  period  between  1782  and  1865  received  their  training 
in  slavery,  the  possession  of  such  qualities  as  trustworthi 
ness,  honesty,  and  faithfulness  to  duty  was  a  prerequisite 
to  the  attainment  of  freedom.  A  bad  slave,  like  an  unruly 
horse,  was  more  likely  to  go  on  the  market,  and  was  less 
likely  to  have  the  commiseration  of  his  master,  than  one  of 
better  qualities.  The  fact  is  that  the  free  negroes,  as  far  as 
they  had  employment,  were  less  inclined  to  steal  than  were 
slaves;  but  in  this  regard  the  less  fortunate  free  negroes 
were  subject  to  greater  temptation,  if  possible,  than  slaves, 
and  the  evidence  is  conclusive  that  they  were  surpassed  by 
no  other  inhabitants  of  the  Commonwealth  in  the  number 
and  variety  of  their  depredations.  Mr.  Archer,  addressing 
the  Virginia  Colonization  Society,  said :  "  The  free  blacks  are 
destined  by  an  insurmountable  barrier — to  the  want  of  occu 
pation,  thence  to  the  want  of  food — thence  to  the  distresses 

150  Writings  of  Jefferson,  vol.  v,  p.  66  (1789). 


which  ensue  that  want— thence  to  the  settled  deprivation 
which  grows  out  of  those  distresses  and  is  nursed  in  their 
bosoms."151  "  Since  they  are  idle,"  observed  ninety  citizens 
of  Culpeper  County,  "  they  either  steal  or  perish."152 

It  should,  however,  be  kept  in  mind  in  a  comparison  of 
the  free  negro  with  the  slave  in  regard  to  all  such  misde 
meanors  as  thievery  that  the  free  negro  was  severely  brought 
to  account  and  universally  criticised  for  his  offenses,  whereas 
the  slave  was  often  shielded  from  prosecution  and  criticism 
by  reason  of  the  dignity  and  authority  of  his  master.  Slave 
owners  were  sometimes  reluctant  to  admit  that  their  slaves 
were  as  bad  as  or  worse  than  the  slaves  of  their  neighbors, 
and  by  way  of  self-defense  and  self-protection  from  criti 
cism  condoned  the  misdemeanors  of  their  slaves  or  punished 
them  in  private.  But  there  was  no  cloak  for  the  "  free  nig 
ger."  The  old  warning  "  Be  sure  your  sin  will  find  you 
out "  had  abundant  sanction  as  applied  to  him. 

The  economic  activities  of  the  roguish  free  negroes  and 
slaves  were  thoroughly  complementary  and  harmonious. 
The  free  negro,  unlike  the  slave,  could  market  products,  the 
presumption  being  that  he  lawfully  possessed  them.  The 
slave  possessed  first-hand  information  as  to  the  location  of 
many  articles  of  produce.  Hence  the  problem  of  produc 
tion  was  managed  by  the  slave ;  the  burden  of  transportation 
was  borne  by  the  free  negro ;  and  the  method  of  distribution 
was  determined  by  mutual  agreement.  As  early  as  1691  the 
free  negro  was  charged  with  being  a  receiver  and  conveyer 

151  Quoted  from  Dew,  p.  83. 

152  MS,    Petitions,   Culpeper   County,    1846,   A   4611.     County  and 
hustings  court  records  of  the  nineteenth  century  contain  numerous 
examples  of  theft  by  free  negroes.     See,  for  example,  case  of  Bob 
Green,   a  free  negro,  who  in  a  single  night  stole  seven  hams  of 
bacon   (Orders  of  the  Richmond  Hustings  Court,  no.   u,  1814,  p. 
153).     Newspaper  notes  of  their  larcenies  were  sometimes  tinged 
with  a  sarcasm  that  is  indicative  of  their  frequent  repetition,  as  for 
instance  the  following :  "  The  Poultry  Trade — A  negro  engaged  in 
the  poultry  business  was  detected  a  few  nights  ago  in  the  act  of  rob 
bing  a  hen  house  on  the  premises  of  a  citizen  of  Manchester.    A 
magistrate  ordered  '39'  for  his  benefit  the  next  day"   (Richmond 
Daily  Dispatch,  February  18,  1858). 

1 1 

162  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

of  stolen  goods,153  and  upon  this  and  other  accusations  was 
based  the  legal  restriction  upon  manumission.  Soon  after 
the  act  removing  these  restrictions  went  into  effect,  in  1782, 
complaints  were  heard  from  different  quarters  that  "  free 
negroes  are  agents,  factors,  and  carriers  to  the  neighboring 
towns  for  slaves,  of  property  by  them  stolen  from  their 
masters  and  others."154 

In  the  neighborhood  of  almost  every  gristmill  in  certain 
parts  of  eastern  Virginia  there  were  located  squads  of  free 
negroes  who  were  suspected  by  their  white  neighbors  of 
procuring  a  large  part  of  their  sustenance  by  concert  with 
roguish  slave  millers.  In  1831  a  number  of  citizens  of 
Charles  City  and  New  Kent  counties,  seeking  from  the  leg 
islature  relief  from  such  conditions,  asserted  that  it  was  a 
custom  almost  universal  with  owners  of  mills  in  their  coun 
ties  and  in  fact  in  the  whole  lower  part  of  the  State  to  em 
ploy  slaves  to  attend  the  mills,  and  that  the  millers  "  are  a 
sort  of  communication  between  slaves  and  the  free  persons 
of  color"  in  the  neighborhood.155  The  legislature,  however, 
took  no  action  in  relief  of  the  persons  aggrieved.156 

A  complaint  of  a  similar  kind  was  received  by  the  legisla 
ture  in  1836  from  Loudoun  County.  According  to  the  peti 
tioners,  free  negroes  who  owned  "  trading  carts  "  and  oper 
ated  them  between  Washington  or  Georgetown  and  the  rural 
communities  of  Virginia  near  the  District  of  Columbia  line 
were  in  the  habit  of  receiving  stolen  goods  from  free  negroes 
and  slaves.157  Complaints  were  heard  at  the  same  time  from 
other  quarters  of  the  State,  and,  although  the  legislature 
refused  to  grant  the  specified  request  of  the  Loudoun  County 
petitioners,158  a  bill  of  general  application  was  introduced 
which  was  designed  to  prevent  free  negroes  from  trading 

153  Hening,  vol.  iii,  p.  87. 

154  MS.  Petitions,  Hanover  County,  1784,  A  8124;  Henrico  County, 
1784,  A  8971. 

165  MS.  Petitions,  Charles  City  County,  1831,  A  3962. 
158  House  Journal,  1831-1832,  pp.  56,  84. 
m  MS.  Petitions,  Loudoun  County,  1836,  B  1840. 
158  House  Journal,  1835-1836,  p.  262. 


beyond  the  town  in  which  they  resided.     The  measure  met 
with  defeat.159 

There  was  a  manifest  reluctance  on  the  part  of  the  legis 
lature  to  interfere  by  law  with  the  right  of  the  free  negroes 
to  trade  freely,  and,  although  complaints  were  becoming 
ominous,160  proposed  legislation  for  prohibiting  them  from 
selling  grain  without  a  certificate  or  evidence  that  they  were 
the  lawful  possessors  of  it  was  in  1840  declared  inexpe 
dient.161  In  some  counties,  however,  the  white  citizens  were 
determined  not  to  take  further  denial  from  the  legislature. 
In  1843  one  hundred  and  twenty-seven  citizens  of  Accomac 
County  signed  a  petition  for  a  law  imposing  a  penalty  upon 
all  white  persons  who  made  purchases  of  grain  from  free 
negroes  without  requiring  from  them  the  certificate  of  two 
respectable  housekeepers  showing  that  the  grain  was  law 
fully  possessed.  "  Country  stores  are  in  the  habit,"  reads 
the  petition,  "  of  receiving  grain  from  free  negroes  who  are 
not  the  producers  of  a  single  bushel  of  grain  of  any  kind. 
The  grain  they  sell  is  either  stolen  by  the  negroes  who  sell  it 
or  more  frequently  received  by  them  of  slaves  who  steal  it 
from  their  masters  and  others  and  by  this  means  exerts  a 
most  pernicious  influence  upon  our  slaves."162  In  response 
to  the  appeal  there  was  introduced  in  the  House  of  Dele 
gates  a  bill  containing  provisions  similar  to  those  asked  for 
by  the  Accomac  petition  and  applicable  to  the  entire  State. 
It  was  later  narrowed  in  application  to  the  counties  of  Acco 
mac  and  Richmond  and  enacted  into  law.163 

159  Ibid.,  p.  244. 

180  In  1836  the  following  petition  was  made  to  the  legislature  by 
citizens  of  Northumberland  County :  "  This  class  of  people,  as  is 
well  known  to  your  honorable  body,  is  everything  that  is  the  very 
opposite  of  honesty  and  industry.  .  .  .  The  law  to  prevent  dealing 
with  slaves  is  a  dead  letter  .  .  .  for  the  slave  has  nothing  to  do 
but  to  pass  over  the  plundered  property  of  his  owner  to  the  free 
negroes  who  can  openly  carry  it  to  market  and  make  sale  of  it  as 
the  production  of  his  own  labor." 

Since  1785  it  had  been  unlawful  for  free  persons  to  trade  with  a 
slave  without  leave  from  the  slave's  master  and  to  trade  with  slaves, 
free  negroes,  or  mulattoes  on  Sunday  (i  Revised  Code,  426). 

161  House  Journal,  1840-1841,  p.  59. 

62  MS.  Petitions,  Accomac  County,  1843,  A  98. 

163  House  Journal,  1842-1843,  pp.  213,  269;  Acts,  1842-1845. 

164  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

The  second  charge  or  accusation,  as  above  enumerated, 
which  was  repeatedly  made  against  the  free  negro  was  that 
he  was  unusually  criminal.  Upon  the  assumption  of  the 
truth  of  this  indictment  were  based  the  criminal  laws  of  the 
second  quarter  of  the  nineteenth  century  applicable  to  the 
free  negro.  Before  the  beginning  of  the  nineteenth  century 
the  free  negro  class  was  not  so  large  as  to  attract  special 
attention  to  its  criminal  record.  Statistics  relative  to  the 
inmates  of  the  penitentiary  made  and  published  during  the 
first  quarter  of  the  nineteenth  century  brought  to  the  atten 
tion  of  the  public  the  fact  that  the  free  negroes  were  com 
mitting  from  two  to  twelve  times  as  many  of  the  crimes  of 
the  State  for  which  punishment  was  meted  out  as  an  equal 
number  of  average  white  persons.  According  to  criminal 
statistics  in  1804,  the  free  negroes  committed  in  proportion 
to  the  population  twice  as  many  crimes  as  the  free  whites. 
In  1808  in  proportion  to  the  population  they  committed 
twelve  crimes  punished  in  the  penitentiary  to  one  among  the 
whites;  in  1810,  three  to  one;  in  1812,  eight  to  one;  and  in 
1824,  twelve  to  one.  The  conclusions  drawn  from  these  sta 
tistics  created  a  very  general  belief  that  the  free  negro  was 
fast  becoming  more  criminal,  and  that  existing  criminal  laws 
were  wholly  inadequate  for  a  class  so  vicious  as  the  free 
Africans.  Consequently,  in  1823  a  law  was  passed  which 
substituted  for  confinement  in  the  penitentiary,  transporta 
tion  and  sale  as  a  method  of  punishing  the  crimes  of  free 
negroes.  For  four  years  this  law  was  effective,  during 
which  time  thirty-five  free  negroes  were  convicted,  trans 
ported,  and  sold  into  slavery.164  During  this  period  the 
number  of  free  negro  convicts  in  proportion  to  the  whites 
was  no  less  than  it  had  been  under  the  penitentiary  system. 
It  is  to  the  credit  of  Governor  William  B.  Giles  that  the  law 
was  repealed  in  1828.  He  realized  the  absurdity  of  taking 
the  number  of  free  negro  convicts  and  comparing  it  with 
the  number  of  white  convicts  in  judging  the  relative  criminal 
capacities  and  tendencies  of  the  free  negroes  and  the  whites. 

104  House  Documents,  no.  15,  1848-1849;  no.  4,  1853-1854. 


The  injustice  to  the  negro  of  such  a  method  consisted,  first, 
in  an  erroneous  assumption  that  the  laws  were  administered 
as  severely  against  white  persons  as  against  free  negroes,185 
and,  secondly,  in  a  comparison  of  the  record  of  the  free 
negroes  with  the  whole  white  population  instead  of  with 
an  equal  number  of  whites  similarly  situated  as  to  means  of 
earning  a  living.  So  pertinent  in  this  connection  are  the  re 
marks  of  Governor  Giles  that  they  may  be  quoted  at  some 
length : — 

I  am  far  from  yielding  to  the  opinion  expressed  by  the  intelligent 
committee  of  the  House  of  Delegates  of  Virginia  and  the  enthu 
siastic  memorialists  of  Ppwhatan  respecting  the  degraded  and  de 
moralized  condition  of  this  caste — at  least  in  degree  and  extent.  It 
will  be  admitted  that  this  caste  of  colored  population  attracted  but 
little  of  the  public  sympathy  and  commiseration, — in  fact,  that  the 
public  feeling  and  sentiment  are  opposed  to  it.  It  is  also  admitted 
that  the  penal  laws  against  it  have  been  marked  with  peculiar  sever 
ity  ;166  so  much  so,  as  to  form  a  characteristic  exception  to  our  whole 
penal  code.  When  I  first  came  into  the  office  of  Governor,  such 
was  the  severity  of  the  penal  laws  against  this  caste,  that  for  all 
capital  offences  short  of  punishment  by  death  and  for  many  of 
fences  not  capital,  slavery,  sale  and  transportation  formed  the 
wretched  doom  denounced  by  the  laws  against  this  unfavored, 
despised  caste  of  colored  population.  ...  I  have  also  reason  to  fear, 
that  under  the  influence  of  general  prejudices,  the  laws,  in  some 
instances,  have  been  administered  against  this  class  more  in  rigour 
than  in  justice.  Yet,  notwithstanding  all  these  deprecated  circum 
stances,  the  proportion  of  convicts  to  the  whole  population  has 
been  small. 

He  points  out  the  fact  that  only  about  one  out  of  every 
thousand  free  negroes  was  a  criminal,  and  concludes  that 

185  It  was  made  a  penitentiary  offense  for  a  free  person  "  to  advise 
any  slave  to  abscond  from  his  master  or  aid  such  slave  to  abscond 
by  procuring  for  or  delivering  to  him  a  pass,  register  or  other 
writing  or  furnish  him  money,  clothes,  etc."  (Acts,  1855-1856,  p.  42). 

In  1848  ten  put  of  eighty-one  free  negroes  in  the  penitentiary  were 
there  for  aiding  or  abetting  slaves  to  escape  from  their  masters. 
This  is  only  one  example  of  the  many  more  chances  for  a  free  negro 
to  be  sent  to  the  penitentiary  than  for  a  white  person  (House  Journal, 
1847-1848,  pp.  20,  22;  MS.  Petitions,  Henrico  County,  1844,  A  9654). 
Two  thirds  of  the  offenses  for  which  free  negroes  were  arraigned 
before  the  hustings  court  of  Richmond  were  defined  by  laws  which 
did  not  apply  to  white  persons, — such,  for  instance,  as  that  which 
made  it  a  criminal  offense  for  a  free  negro  to  remain  in  a  city 
or  county  without  proper  registration  (Richmond  Daily  Dispatch, 
February  8,  1859). 

1M  Compare  Howison,  vol.  ii,  pp.  458-459,  for  similar- expressions. 
For  example,  he  says:  "They  are  subject  to  restraints  and  surveil 
lance  in  points  beyond  number." 

1 66  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

"  these  facts  prove,  first,  that  this  class  of  population  is  by 
no  means  so  vicious,  degraded  and  demoralized  as  repre 
sented  by  their  prejudiced  friends  and  voluntary  benefac 
tors.  And,  second,  that  evils  attributed  to  this  class  are 
vastly  magnified  and  exaggerated."167 

From  1828,  the  date  of  the  repeal  of  the  law  fixing  trans 
portation  and  sale  as  a  penalty  in  the  case  of  free  colored 
convicts,  to  1861  the  free  colored  class  furnished  from  one 
tenth  to  one  fifth  of  the  inmates  of  the  penitentiary.  The 
apparent  disproportion  of  the  crimes  of  this  class  was  often 
pointed  out  in  argument  for  a  general  deportation  or  colo 
nization.168  Governors  Smith,  Floyd,  Johnson,  and  Wise 
brought  the  fact  repeatedly  to  the  attention  of  the  legisla 
ture.169  Governor  Smith,  however,  attributed  much  of  the 
disparity  to  circumstances  which,  for  the  free  negro,  were 
unavoidable.  "  If  there  be,"  said  he,  "  in  his  natural  char 
acter  the  elements  to  make  him  a  great  and  good  man,  it  is 
hopeless  to  expect  that  they  will  ever  be  developed  under 
our  policy."170  Governor  Wise,  in  stating  in  1857  some  pos 
sible  arguments  in  defense  of  the  free  negro,  observed  that 
"  if  many  of  them  are  corrupted  and  degenerated  ...  it  is 
owing  not  only  to  their  own  improvidence,  but  to  evil  com 
munication  with  bad  white  men  who  associate  and  deal  with 
them  and  abuse  their  weakness  and  who  are  not  restrained 
by  penal  laws."171 

It  should  be  said  that  the  penal  record  of  the  Virginia  free 
negro  was  not  worse  than  that  of  the  negro  in  some  northern 
free  States, — for  instance,  Massachusetts.  Between  1840 
and  1850  the  number  of  colored  convicts  to  one  white  con 
vict,  in  proportion  to  the  population,  was  in  Massachusetts, 

167  P.  20. 

1 "  An  ominous  disparity !  which  was  constantly  pressed  upon 
the  attention  of  the  reflecting  men  of  the  state"  (Howison,  vol.  ii, 
p.  458). 

169  Messages  of  the  Governors,  in  House  Journal,  1846-1847;  1847- 
1848,  p.  20;   1850-1851,  p.  30;   1853-1854,  doc.  no.   i,  p.  14;  House 
Documents,  no.  I,  1857-1858,  p.  151. 

170  House  Journal,  1847-1848,  p.  20. 

171  House  Documents,  no.  i,  1857,  p.  151. 


9.6 ;  in  Virginia,  7.2.  For  the  first  two  years  of  the  decade 
of  the  fifties  it  was  in  Massachusetts,  13 ;  in  Virginia,  6.3.172 

If  a  comparison  is  made  of  the  criminal  record  of  the  ne 
groes  of  Virginia  at  the  present  time  on  the  basis  of  the 
relative  number  of  white  and  black  convicts  in  the  peniten 
tiary,  the  disparity  will  appear  as  great  today  as  at  almost 
any  time  prior  to  the  Civil  War.173  The  conclusion  seems 
irresistible  that  the  criminal  capacities  and  tendencies  of  the 
antebellum  free  negro  were  not  so  great  as  they  were  quite 
generally  believed  to  be. 

Thirdly,  was  the  free  negro  insurrectionary  and  turbu 
lent?  No  criticism  of  the  free  negro  was  more  general  and 
more  undeserved  than  that  he  contrived,  or  was  disposed  to 
contrive,  insurrections,  and  that  he  induced  the  slaves  to 
rebel  against  their  masters.  He  was  referred  to  on  the 
floor  of  the  legislature  in  1805  as  a  possible  leader  of  a  rebel 
lion  or  an  "active  chieftain  of  a  formidable  conspiracy."174 

The  insurrection  in  Santo  Domingo,  headed  by  the  free 
blacks  of  the  island,  for  a  long  time  furnished  the  starting- 
point  of  arguments  advanced  to  show  that  free  negroes 
might  at  any  time  head  a  slave  rebellion.  In  1823  La 
fayette  asked  Madison  whether  it  was  considered  that  the 
increase  in  the  proportion  of  free  blacks  to  slaves  tended  to 
increase  or  diminish  the  dangers  of  insurrection.  Madison's 
answer  was,  "  Rather  increases,"  and  that  in  case  of  a  slave 
insurrection  the  free  blacks  would  be  more  likely  to  side 
with  the  slaves  than  with  the  whites.  Madison  certainly 
gave  a  correct  expression  of  the  general  feeling  or  belief 
of  the  white  population,  but  there  is  really  little  evidence  to 
show  that  the  impression  was  correct.  There  are  no  in 
stances  on  record  of  insurrections  in  Virginia  initiated  by 
or  carried  out  under  the  leadership  of  free  negroes.  Not 
a  free  negro  was  proved  to  have  had  any  criminal  relation 
to  the  Gabriel  plot  in  1800,  and  only  two  free  negro  men 

L"  House  Documents,  no.  14,  1853-1854,  pp.  38,  54. 

173  Reports  of  Virginia  Penitentiary,  October,  1909,  September  30, 

174  Richmond  Enquirer,  January  15,  1805. 

1 68  THE   FREE    NEGRO    IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

whose  wives  were  slaves  were  implicated  in  the  Nat  Turner 
insurrection ;  neither  of  the  two  seems  to  have  been  a  lead 
ing  spirit  among  the  seventy  or  more  slaves  who  partici 
pated  in  the  affair.175 

An  insurrection  always  brought  out  expressions  of  fear 
of  the  free  negro,  first,  because  he  was  presumed  to  have 
kindred  and  sympathetic  feelings  for  the  slave  and  to  share 
with  him  prejudices  against  the  whites ;  and  secondly,  be 
cause  he  was  known  to  have  intimate  relations  with  the 
slaves  and  an  increased  capacity  for  organization  by  reason 
of  his  freedom  to  go  from  place  to  place.  Expressed  opin 
ions  of  the  danger  of  free  negro  insurrections  were  very 
numerous  for  a  while  after  the  Southampton  affair,176  but 
occasionally  some  writer  or  speaker  who  thought  twice  be 
fore  venturing  a  remedy  for  the  ills  of  society  pointed  out 
the  fact,  which  now  seems  plain  enough,  that  the  free  negroes 
who  had  a  legal  right  to  remain  and  those  who,  despite  the 
law,  were  tolerated  in  Virginia  were  too  well  satisfied  to 
create  insurrection.177  Thomas  Marshall  observed  with  truth 
in  the  legislature  of  1832,  "  There  is  no  evidence  of  a  dispo 
sition  to  join  in  revolt  or  disturb  the  public  tranquility."178 
Professsor  Dew  observed  that  the  Virginia  free  negro  had 
been  taught  to  understand  his  place  and  to  occupy  it  hum 
bly.179  The  antebellum  free  negro  did  not  demand  social  or 
political  equality,  but  rather  felt  that  any  right  that  he  pos 
sessed  was  so  much  for  which  he  should  be  thankful.  The 
slave  set  free  because  of  meritorious  conduct  or  faithful 
ness  of  service,  far  from  being  insurrectionary,  was  an  ex 
ample  of  politeness,  humility,  and  respect  for  superiors  and 
for  authority  such  as  is  rarely  if  ever  seen  at  the  present 

175  Richmond  Enquirer,  November  18,  1831 ;  W.  S.  Drewry,  The 
Southampton  Insurrection,  appendix. 

170 "  We  are  not  unmindful  of  the  aid  slaves  would  get  from 
this  source  [the  free  negroes]  in  case  of  a  servile  insurrection" 
(Petition  of  200  citizens  of  Northampton,  in  MS.  Petitions,  Decem 
ber,  1831,  A  4884). 

177  See  article  contributed  to  the  Richmond  Enquirer,  November 
18,  1831. 

178  Richmond  Enquirer,  February  14,  1832. 
'"Pp.  85,  87. 


among  either  the  white  or  the  black  population.180  The  in 
fusion  of  this,  the  best  type  of  African  in  America,  among 
the  free  negro  class  was  sufficient  in  itself  to  influence  the 
class  toward  submissiveness. 

Thomas  Marshall  believed  with  not  a  few  thoughtful  men 
that  the  free  negro  constituted  "  no  inconsiderable  barrier 
to  a  future  insurrection  of  slaves."181  A  similar  opinion 
was  expressed  on  the  floor  of  the  legislature  in  i8o5.182  In 
truth,  there  are  numerous  instances  of  the  forestalling  of 
insurrections  and  the  preventing  of  plots  of  slaves  through 
the  agency  of  free  negroes.  Moses,  a  free  negro  of  Gooch- 
land  County,  revealed  a  conspiracy  of  slaves  in  1822.  183  In 
1810  two  hundred  citizens  of  Petersburg  declared  to  the 
legislature  through  a  petition  that  a  free  negro,  Emanuel, 
had  saved  the  town  from  conflagration  by  reporting  and 
aiding  in  the  capture  of  incendiary,  plotting  slaves.184  Lewis 
Bowlagh  presented  certificates  to  the  legislature  to  show 
that  he  had  given  information  to  the  whites  in  time  to  pre 
vent  bloodshed  plotted  by  slaves.185  A  petition  in  behalf  of 
Isaac,  of  Rockbridge  County,  was  based  on  the  ground  that 
he  had  been  a  useful  man  in  detecting  and  bringing  negroes 
to  account  for  their  wrongdoing.186  Daniel  Brady's  father, 
a  man  of  good  character,  even  surrendered  up  his  own  son 
to  stand  his  trial  and  suffer  punishment.187  It  was  certainly 
not  the  disposition  of  the  free  negro,  knowingly  and  with 
design,  to  increase  the  prejudices  of  the  whites  against  him 
by  creating  insurrection.  Far  from  being  of  "a  turbulent 
and  discontented  "  disposition,  as  those  in  favor  of  coloniza- 

are  peaceable,  orderly  in  their  deportment,  humble  to 
those  whom  the  law  has  made  their  superiors  and  polite  to  those  who 
are  considered  their  equals."  Said  by  fifty-nine  white  persons  of 
Caroline  County  of  nine  free  negroes  —  Joseph  Tyree,  his  wife,  and 
seven  children  (MS.  Petitions,  Caroline  County,  1821,  A  3804). 

81  Richmond  Enquirer,  February  14,  1832. 

183  Ibid.,  January  15,  1805. 

83  MS.   Petitions,   Goochland   County,   1822,  A  7085. 

84  MS.  Petitions,  Dinwiddie  County,  1810,  A  5196. 
"MS.  Petitions,  Henrico  County,  1824,  A  9353. 

86  MS.  Petitions,  Rockbridge  County,  uncatalogued. 
187  Pardons  issued  by  Governor  Wise,  in  House  Documents,  no.  I, 
1857-1858,  p.  clxx. 

I7O  THE   FREE    NEGRO    IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

tion  declared  him  to  be,  he  longed  to  be  left  alone  in  the 
place  of  his  birth,  free  from  fears  of  molestation  and  annoy 
ance,  to  enjoy  perfect  contentment.  Without  question  the 
free  negro  population  in  Virginia  was  in  general  meek  and 
submissive  and  not  inclined  to  rebellion.188 

Fourthly,  the  charge  often  made  that  the  free  negro  was 
lazy  and  improvident  must  not  be  accepted  without  some 
qualification.  It  is  reasonable  to  believe  that  the  free  ne 
groes,  like  the  slaves,  were  naturally  lazy;  but  it  is  really 
remarkable  what  examples  of  thrift  and  economy  this  class 
produced.  Within  the  space  of  four  years  Rose  Hailstock 
purchased  with  her  saved  earnings  her  own  freedom  and, 
one  by  one,  the  freedom  of  her  three  children,  paying  alto 
gether  £125  sterling.189  Samuel  Jackson  saved  enough  to 
purchase  in  1815  the  freedom  of  his  wife  and  two  chil 
dren.100  Arthur  Lee,  of  Alleghany  County,  displayed  a  per 
severance  and  an  ability  to  economize  that  is  not  often  sur 
passed  by  laboring  men  of  any  race  or  condition.  For  six 
teen  years  he  was  the  slave  of  a  man  named  Brown,  who 
lived  in  North  Carolina,  but  he  was  permitted  to  remain  in 
Virginia  on  the  condition  that  he  pay  his  owner  one  hundred 
dollars  per  annum.  Having  paid,  at  this  rate,  sixteen  hun 
dred  dollars  by  1835,  ne  purchased  his  freedom,  paying  his 
owner  five  hundred  dollars  for  his  future  liberty.  Not  sat 
isfied,  he  immediately  set  to  work  to  earn  three  hundred  and 
fifty  dollars  with  which  to  purchase  his  wife's  freedom. 
This  done,  he  procured  the  signatures  of  one  hundred  and 
seventy-six  citizens  of  Alleghany  County  to  his  humble  peti 
tion  to  the  legislature  for  a  law  granting  to  him  and  his  wife 
a  legal  right  to  reside  in  the  Commonwealth,  that  he  might 
continue  to  ply  the  honorable  trade  of  a  blacksmith.191  As 
to  the  character  for  industry  of  Billy  Williams,  forty-seven 

188  Professor  Dew  admitted,  or,  we  might  say,  contended  that  the 
Virginia  free  negro  was  more  orderly  and  well  behaved  than  the 
free  negro  of  the  Northern  States.     In  the  North,  he  said,  the  negro 
was  taught  arrogance  and  equality.    In  the  South  he  was  made  to 
understand  his  place  and  to  occupy  it  humbly  (pp.  85,  87). 

189  Hening,  vol.  xiii,  p.  618. 

190  MS.  Petitions,  Fauquier  County,  1815,  A  5760. 

191  MS.  Petitions,  Alleghany  County,  1835,  A  666. 


citizens  of  Campbell  County  said:  "We  are  his  neighbors 
and  are  willing  and  indeed  desirous  that  the  legislature  pass 
the  law  permitting  him  to  remain  in  the  state,  as  he  is  not 
only  an  honest,  prosperous  man,  but  in  truth  a  most  useful 
and  accommodating  man  to  his  neighbors  and  all  with  whom 
he  has  anything  to  do.  A  farmer  by  occupation  and  owns 
loo  acres  of  land."192  Examples  could  be  multiplied  indefi 
nitely  in  contradiction  of  indiscriminating  indictments,  such, 
for  instance,  as  that  made  by  Governor  Smith  when  he  char 
acterized  the  free  colored  population  as  a  "  race  of  idlers, 
thriftless  and  unproductive/'103  The  exaggerated  and  often 
self-contradictory  character  of  the  statements  of  coloniza 
tion  zealots  will  best  appear  by  a  quotation  from  a  widely 
circulated  memorial184  to  the  legislature: — 

Their  idleness  is  proverbial ;  they  live,  few  know  in  what  way  and 
fewer  where.  .  .  .  Whatever  energy  can  be  spared  from  annoying 
both  classes  [slave  and  white]  is  expended  in  multiplying  their  own 

And  yet  this  same  individual,  the  pest  of  the  land  which  gives  him 
only  birth,  when  transported  to  a  seat  where  his  industry  may  have 
excitement  and  object  becomes  the  active,  thriving,  and  happy  citizen 
of  Liberia.195 

Rigorous  and  discriminatory  as  were  the  laws  of  Virginia 
enacted  for  the  purpose  of  controlling  that  presumably  law- 

192  MS.  Petitions,  Campbell  County,  1851,  A  3684. 

193  House  Journal,  1847-1848,  p.  20. 

194  MS.   Petitions,   Henrico   County,    1831,  A  9431.     See  also  me 
morial  of  the  Auxiliary  Colonization  Society  of  Buckingham  County, 
in  MS.  Petitions,  Buckingham  County,  1832,  A  3080.     A  memorial 
of  the  Fairfax  Colonization  Society  read :  "  Pursuing  no  course  of 
regular   business    and   negligent   of    everything   like   economy   and 
husbandry  they  are  a  part  of  the  community  supported  by  the  in 
dustry  of  others"   (MS.  Petitions,  Fairfax  County,  1832,  A  5578). 

195  With  this  picture  of  what  the  Virginia  colonizers  professed  to 
think  the   free  negro  would  become  in  Liberia  may  be  compared 
what  citizens  of  Somerset  County,  Maryland,  thought  of  the  Vir 
ginia    free   negroes   who   had   come   into   Maryland    from   Virginia 
after  the  law  of   1806  made  the  residence  of  certain  ones   illegal 
in  Virginia:  "We  reap  not  the  rewards  or  fruits  of  our  labor  .  .  . 
all  is  snatched   from  us  by  that  curse  of   God's  Creation,  the  de 
graded  free  negro  ...  he  toils  not  neither  does  he  spin,  yet  like 
Dives  he  fares  sumptuously  and  is  arrayed  in  purple  and  fine  linen 
and  well  he  may,  for  he  appropriates  to  his  own  use  the  labors  of 
the  entire  white  population"   (MS.  Petitions  to  Maryland  Legisla 
ture,  in  Maryland  Historical  Society,  portfolio  7,  no.  28). 

172  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

less,  disorderly  and  vicious  member  of  society,  the  free 
negro,  they  fail  in  some  respects  to  reveal  the  extent  to 
which  he  was  subjected  to  surveillance  and  discipline,  while 
in  other  respects  they  represent  a  harsher  treatment  than  he 
actually  received.  In  the  nineteenth  century  there  existed 
a  law  for  keeping  watch  over  and  controlling  the  conduct 
of  free  negroes  not  found  among  the  statutes  or  supported 
by  legal  precedents.  Its  sanction  was  in  community  senti 
ment,  and  its  name  was  lynch-law.  The  practice  before  the 
Civil  War  of  policing  the  free  negroes  by  self-appointed 
bailiffs  was  the  historical  antecedent  of  the  Ku  Klux  Klan 
of  reconstruction  days,  although  there  was  not  the  same 
degree  of  organization  and  not  so  wide  a  gap  between  local 
sentiment  and  legal  administration  before  as  during  that 

Prostitution  and  vice  among  the  free  colored  population 
.were  frequently  dealt  with  by  methods  not  approved  by 
law.  For  example,  in  Amelia  County  in  1821  the  inmates 
of  houses  of  ill  repute  were  visited  and  chastized  by  a  party 
of  disguised  white  men.196  Although  a  fine  was  imposed 
upon  at  least  one  of  the  persons  connected  with  this  raid, 
the  state  of  sentiment  favorable  to  the  method  of  procedure 
is  seen  in  the  effort  made  by  half  a  hundred  of  the  local  resi 
dents  to  have  the  convicted  man  released  from  his  fine. 
General  Brodnax,  speaking  from  the  floor  of  the  legislature 
in  1832,  was  not  challenged  upon  the  assertion  that  such 
methods  of  getting  rid  of  undesirable  free  negroes  were  of 
common  occurrence.  "  Who  does  not  know,"  said  he,  "  that 
when  a  free  negro,  by  crime  or  otherwise,  has  rendered  him 
self  obnoxious  to  a  neighborhood,  how  easy  it  is  for  a  party 
to  visit  him  one  night,  take  him  from  his  bed  and  family, 
and  apply  to  him  the  gentle  admonition  of  a  severe  flagella 
tion,  to  induce  him  to  go  away.  In  a  few  nights  the  dose 
can  be  repeated,  perhaps  increased,  until,  in  the  language 
of  the  physicians,  quantum  suff  has  been  administered  .  .  . 

186  MS.  Petitions,  Amelia  County,  1821,  A  781. 


and  the  fellow  becomes  perfectly  willing  to  go  away."197 
So  commonly  was  lynch-law  of  this  character  resorted  to  by 
the  whites  in  prevailing  upon  free  negroes  to  yield  to  their 
wishes  that  one  argument  strongly  urged  in  1832  in  favor 
of  a  law  authorizing  the  use  of  force  in  carrying  out  a  colo 
nization  scheme  was  the  necessity  of  shielding  the  negroes 
from  the  cruelty  of  private  intimidation  and  compulsion.198 
William  Miles  Cuffee,  a  free  negro  born  in  1839,  now  living 
at  Hickory  Ground,  Virginia,  tells  how  in  1859,  upon  a 
rumor  of  insurrection,  whites  assembled  in  bands  to  intimi 
date  and  frighten  the  free  negroes  in  the  community.  Ac 
cording  to  his  report,  he  remained  hidden  in  the  woods  for 
about  three  days  and  nights  while  the  raids  were  being  con 
ducted  against  persons  of  his  class. 

While  local  sentiment  often  permitted  the  authority  of  the 
law  to  be  exceeded  or  ignored  by  individuals  self-appointed 
to  discipline  and  punish  free  negroes,  it  no  less  frequently 
permitted  laws  to  remain  unenforced.  Speaking  of  the  laws 
which  forbade  free  negroes  to  move  from  one  town  or 
locality  to  another  and  to  assemble  in  considerable  numbers 
and  of  those  which  compelled  them  to  submit  to  search  of 
their  houses  and  persons  by  patrols,  a  writer  in  the  Richmond 
Enquirer  declared  that  "  these  provisions  and  many  other 
laws  on  this  subject  are  so  much  at  variance  with  the  feel 
ings  of  our  citizens  that  in  many  parts  of  the  state  they  are 
merely  a  dead  letter.  ...  So  long  as  our  humanity  prepon 
derates  over  our  fears,  so  long  will  those  laws  be  very  par 
tially  and  feebly  executed."19* 

The  same  writer  clearly  discerns  and  explains  the  reason 
why  legislation  dealing  with  the  free  negroes  outran  execu 
tion:  "As  legislators,  impressed  with  the  jeopardy  that 
threatens  the  public  safety,  men  readily  give  their  assent  to 

L9T  Richmond  Enquirer,  February  14,  1832.  Compare  Jay,  Slavery 
in  America,  p.  45. 

198  Speech  of  Mr.  Chandler,  in  the  Richmond  Enquirer,  February 
14,  1832.     General  Brodnax  said  that  he  understood  that  the  consent 
of  the  emigrants  in  a  cargo  which  had  recently  set  sail  for  Africa 
was  obtained  by  private  compulsion. 
,  189  Richmond  Enquirer,  October  8,  1805. 

1/4  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

any  measure  that  seems  calculated  to  protect  it,  but  when 
they  return  to  the  bosom  of  their  families  and  are  sur 
rounded  by  those  among  whom  they  were  born  and  nursed 
and  from  whose  labor  they  obtain  the  means  of  comfort  and 
independence  the  sentiments  of  the  legislator  are  frequently 
lost  in  the  feelings  of  humanity  and  affection  in  the  private 

An  illustration  of  this  fact  is  seen  in  the  operation  of  that 
law  which  directed  emancipated  slaves  to  leave  the  State 
within  twelve  months  from  the  date  of  their  emancipation. 
Henry  Howe  said  in  1845  tnat  "  these  laws,  and  every  other 
having  the  appearance  of  rigor  .  .  .  are  nearly  dead  letters 
upon  our  statute  books,  unless  during  times  of  excitement, 
or  since  the  efforts  of  the  abolitionists  have  reanimated 
them.  I  have,  until  lately,  scarcely  known  an  instance  in 
which  they  have  been  enforced."200  Petitions  were  con 
tinually  being  sent  to  the  legislature  by  white  persons  com 
plaining  "that  the  law  requiring  the  removal  [of  ex-slaves] 
is  in  its  operation  perfectly  nugatory."201 

In  certain  localities,  however,  and  at  certain  times  the  law 
was  rendered  in  some  measure  effective.  The  act  was  a 
penal  statute,  depending  upon  local  officials  for  its  execu 
tion;  hence  enforcement  was  not  uniform  as  to  times  and 
places.  The  appearance  of  the  successive  census  reports 
showing  the  rapid  increase  and  accumulation  of  the  free 
negroes  in  the  State  usually  gave  rise  to  some  zeal  for  pro 
ceeding  against  free  negroes  who  remained  in  violation  of 
the  law.202  The  number  and  the  deportment  of  these  ne 
groes  in  a  community  went  far  toward  determining  the 
length  to  which  the  local  officials  would  go  in  prosecuting 
them.  In  the  counties  of  western  Virginia,  where  but  few 
negroes  resided,  almost  no  use  was  made  of  this  law.  In 

200  Historical  Collections  of  Virginia,  p.  157. 

201  MS.    Petitions,    Hampshire    County,    1836,    A    7904;    Loudoun 
County,  1836,  B  1849;  Loudoun  and  Fauquier  Counties,  1847,  B  1952. 

202  "  The  excitement  which  now  prevails  will  in  a  little  while  en 
tirely  subside  and  you  will  see  things  move  on  just  as  they  have 
done  until  the  next  census,  when  we  shall  again  begin  to  stir  and 
flutter  for  awhile"  (Richmond  Whig,  December  n,  1845). 


most  of  the  eastern  counties  the  prescribed  penalty — sale 
into  slavery — was  so  much  at  variance  with  sentiment  that 
grand  juries  usually  refused  to  indict,  or  attorneys  refusecl 
to  prosecute,  violators  of  the  law.203  When  indictments 
were  made,  the  cases  were  continued  from  time  to  time  or 
finally  dismissed.204 

When  arrests,  prosecutions,  and  sales  of  free  negroes  were 
made,  the  object  was  usually  to  make  examples  of  some  that 
all  others  might  take  warning  and  leave  the  community. 
The  overseers  of  the  poor  of  Accomac  County  held  a  meet 
ing  in  1825,  and  determined  to  make  an  example  of  one 
negro,  thinking  that  they  would  by  this  means  be  spared 
the  necessity  of  selling  as  slaves  the  free  negroes  who  had 
become  unlawful  residents  under  the  act  of  i8o6.205  A 
negro  named  Jack  Bagwell  was  the  unlucky  victim ;  but  a 
single  example  was  not  sufficient  to  induce  all  other  free 
negroes  liable  to  sale  to  quit  the  community,  and  at  a  meet 
ing  held  the  following  year  the  Board  of  Overseers  ordered 
that  notice  be  posted  throughout  the  county  "  that  the  Over 
seers  of  the  Poor  .  .  .  will  sell  one  free  negro  in  each  dis 
trict  of  this  county  for  every  month  from  this  date."206 

In  pursuance  of  the  order,  seven  negroes  were  sold  into 
slavery  on  June  5,  1826.  The  maximum  price  received  for 
any  one  of  the  seven  freemen  was  thirty-six  dollars  and 
fifty  cents.  The  fact  that  some  of  them  brought  so  low  a 
price  as  one  dollar  creates  a  doubt  as  to  whether  the  pur 
chasers  expected  to  force  them  into  bondage  or  whether 
they  did  not  intend  to  allow  them  to  escape  from  the  neigh 
borhood.  In  1839  Richard  Rew  purchased  at  the  price  of 
five  hundred  and  thirty  dollars  a  free  negro  who  had  lived 
in  Virginia  contrary  to  law  since  his  manumission  in  1819. 

203  MS.  Orders  of  Northampton  County,  1831-1836,  pp.  136,  147, 
505;  MS.  Petitions,  Loudoun  and  Fauquier  Counties,  1847,  B  1952; 
Frederick  County,  1828,  A  6495. 

1 "  By  this  mode,  they  were  annually  before  the  court,  their 
cases  called  and  continued  and  in  this  evasive  way,  they  spent  the 
remainder  of  their  days  in  their  old  communities"  (T.  K.  Cartmell, 
Shenandoah  Valley  Pioneers  and  Their  Descendants,  p.  521). 

205  MS.  Petitions,  Accomac  County,  1825,  A  91. 

206  Ibid,  1826,  A  80. 

176  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

The  negro  made  good  his  escape  to  New  York,  and  Rew, 
who  had  paid  a  high  price  for  him,  expecting  to  subject  him 
to  actual  bondage,  appealed  earnestly  but  in  vain  to  the 
legislature  for  a  refunding  of  the  purchase  money.207 

Even  such  a  timid  and  spasmodic  enforcement  of  this  law 
as  these  instances  represent  rendered  the  condition  of  a 
great  number  of  free  negroes  anomalous  and  insecure.  Not 
only  those  negroes  emancipated  after  1806,  but  also  their 
posterity  were  liable  to  be  sold  as  slaves,  and  many  deserv 
ing  negroes  were  forced  to  appeal  to  the  humanity  of  their 
white  neighbors  to  save  them  from  banishment  or  sale.  In 
1834  Titus  Brown,  whose  hair  was  white  with  age,  related 
how  he  and  his  wife,  childless  and  almost  as  old  as  he,  had 
been  "ordered  to  depart  from  the  Commonwealth."208  It 
was  not  often  that  a  free  negro  of  fair  character  was  unable, 
even  in  times  of  excitement,  to  get  his  white  neighbors  to 
intercede  in  his  behalf.  These  could  usually  bring  about  a 
relaxation  of  energy  in  the  prosecution,  or,  as  in  the  case  of 
Archy  Carey,  they  might  "  agree  that  so  long  as  his  conduct 
comports  with  his  recommendation  they  will  not  enforce  the 
law  against  him."209  If  in  this  way  they  could  not  render 
secure  a  negro  threatened  with  sale  or  banishment,  his  white 
sympathizers  would  often  draft  earnest  appeals  to  the  hu 
manity  of  the  legislators,  and  procure  to  these  petitions  hun 
dreds  of  white  subscribers.  Very  frequently  the  legislature 
was  moved  to  pass  acts  excepting  certain  free  negroes  from 
the  operation  of  the  law.210  In  some  such  way  were  toler 
ated  nearly  all  ex-slaves  who  ventured  to  assume  the  risk  of 
losing  their  freedom.  It  was  asked  in  the  House  of  Dele 
gates  in  1832  why  the  laws  providing  for  the  banishment  or 
sale  of  certain  free  negroes  had  not  been  carried  out.  The 
answer  was :  "  Because  its  provisions  were  in  violation  of 
the  feelings  of  the  people.  A  thousand  such  laws  would 

207  House  Journal,  1839-1840,  p.  205. 

208  MS.  Petitions,  Loudoun  County,  1834,  B  1830. 

"MS.  Petitions,  Campbell  County,  1830,  A  1013. 
210  For   examples,   see  Acts,    1821-1822,  p.  84;    1833-1834,  p.   316; 
1834-1835,  p.  240;  or  Acts  of  any  year  from  1812  to  1848. 


fall  to  the  ground  and  be  inoperative  for  lack  of  public  sen 
timent."211  The  same  explanation  was  given  by  Governor 
Wise  in  his  message  to  the  legislature  in  1857.  "  It  would 
be  more  humane  and  more  just,"  he  said,  "  to  sell  them 
wholesale  into  slavery  "  than  to  force  upon  them  dispersion 
and  extinction  in  the  cold  climate  of  the  free  States;  "but 
the  moral  sense  of  our  people  would  revolt  at  a  violation  of 
individual  and  personal  rights  like  this  and  no  such  usurpa 
tion  would  be  tolerated  by  public  sentiment."212 

m  Richmond  Enquirer,  February  14,  1832. 
212  House  Documents,  no.  I,  1857,  p.  151. 



Lack  of  space  necessitates  the  omission  from  this  list  of 
a  large  number  of  secondary  authorities  having  bearing 
upon,  but  not  contemporary  with,  some  portion  of  the  period 
treated  in  this  monograph.  Footnote  references  to  the 
most  useful  of  the  works  of  postbellum  writers  touching 
the  subject  herein  treated  must  suffice  to  show  the  extent 
of  the  author's  indebtedness  to  authorities.  With  the  ex 
ception  of  a  few  county  or  local  histories  having  special 
value  because  of  their  limited  territorial  scope,  only  primary 
sources  are  here  enumerated. 


A.  COUNTY  COURT  RECORDS, — Orders,  Deeds,  Wills,  Inventories,  and 

so  forth ;  certified  copies  transcribed  from  the  original  records 
in  pursuance  of  an  act  of  the  Virginia  State  Legislature  and 
preserved  in  the  Virginia  State  Library  in  Richmond,  Virginia. 
19  vols.,  folio: 

1.  Accomac  County,  1632-1640,  1676-1690. 

2.  Elizabeth  City  County,   1684-1699. 

3.  Essex  County,  1695-1699. 

4.  Henrico  County,  1677-1692,  1682-1701. 

5.  Warwick  County,   1748-1762. 

6.  York    County,     1633-1694,     1638-1648,     1657-1662,     1664-1672, 

1675-1684,  1677-1692,  1677-1699,  1684-1687,  1687-1691,  1690- 
1694,   1694-1702,  1694-1697. 

B.  COUNTY  COURT  RECORDS, — Orders,   Deeds,  Wills,  and  so  forth; 

original  records : 

1.  Henrico  County,  various  volumes,  1776-1860,  in  County  Court 

House,  Richmond,  Virginia. 

2.  Lower   Norfolk  and   Norfolk  County,   1637-1646,   1646-1651, 

1686-1695,    and    various    volumes,    1700-1860,    in    Norfolk 
County  Court  House,  Portsmouth,  Virginia. 

In  this  county  free  negroes  and  mulattoes  were  registered 
in  volumes  kept  for  that  purpose  only :  vol.  i,  1802-1852 ; 
vol.  2,  1852-1861.  Concerning  each  free  negro  registered 
by  the  county  court  clerk  there  was  recorded  the  answer 
to  the  following  queries:  Name,  How  free,  Age,  Height, 
Complexion,  Marks  or  Scars.  Each  negro  was  numbered 
and  the  date  of  his  registration  recorded. 

3.  Northampton  County,   1632-1640,   1640-1645,   1645-1651,   1651- 

1654,  1654-1655,  1655-1658,  1657-1664,  1683-1689,  1689-1698, 
1710-1720,  and  various  volumes,  1720-1860. 


Records  of  the  Hustings  Court,  Richmond,  Virginia,  vari 
ous  volumes,  1782-1860. 

Ordinances  of  the  City  of  Richmond,  3  vols.,  1804-1860. 


At  Episcopal  Theological  Seminary,  Alexandria,  Virginia : 

1.  Register   of    Christ's    Church,    Middlesex    County,    Virginia, 


2.  Register    of    Kingston    Parish,    Mathews    County,    Virginia, 

1674-18 — . 

3.  Vestry  Book  of  Charles  Parish,  York  County,  Virginia,  1670- 

At  Bruton  Church,  Williamsburg,  Virginia : 

4.  Register  of  Middletown  and  Bruton  Parishes,  1662-1797. 
At  Library  of  William  and  Mary  College,  Williamsburg: 

5.  Register  of  Abingdon  Parish,  transcribed  by  Lyon  G.  Tyler. 

6.  Register  of   Charles   Parish,    1648-1800,   transcribed   for  Li 

brary  of  William  and  Mary  College. 

D.  RECORDS  OF  FRIENDS'  MEETINGS,  at  Park  Avenue  Meeting  House, 

Baltimore,  Maryland. 

1.  Minutes  of  the  Baltimore  Yearly  Meeting  held  at  West  River 

and  Third  Haven,  3  vols.,  1677-1758,  1754-1764,  1798-1821. 

2.  Condensed  record  of  the  action  of  yearly  meetings  on  ques 

tions  relating  to  slavery  and  the  slave  trade,  1760-1819. 

3.  Minutes  of  the  Warrenton  and  Fairfax  Quarterly  Meeting, 


4.  Minutes  of  the  Warrenton  and  Fairfax  Quarterly  Meeting  of 

Women  Friends,  1775-1787. 

5.  Minutes  of  the  Warrenton  Quarterly  Meeting,  1787-1801. 

6.  Minutes  of  the  Fairfax  Quarterly  Meeting,  1787-1850. 

7.  Minutes  of  Crooked  Run  Monthly  Meeting,  1782-1789. 

8.  Minutes  of  Fairfax  Monthly  Meeting:  vol.  A,  1745-1776;  vol. 

B,  1776-1802;  vol.  C,  1802-1845. 

9.  Minutes  of  Hopewell  Monthly  Meeting:  bk.  i,  1759-1777;  bk. 

2,  1777-1791;  bk.  3,  1791-1811;  bk.  4,  1811-1851. 
10.  Minutes  and  Proceedings  of  Goose  Creek  Monthly  Meeting, 
1785-1818;  1818-18— . 

E.  Records  of  the  General  Court  of  Virginia,  transcribed  by  Con- 

way  Robinson,  1640-1661,  1670-1676.     Virginia  Historical  So 

F.  Legislative  Petitions  of  Virginia,  1776-1860. 

This  collection  of  original  manuscript  documents,  one  of  the 
most  important  sources  of  this  monograph,  is  preserved  in  the 
archives  of  the  State  and  is  divided  into  as  many  groups 
as  there  were  counties  from  which  the  petitions  or  memorials 
originated.  The  arrangement  within  the  county  groups  is 
with  reference  to  chronology.  Fifteen  thousand  five  hundred 
documents  are  catalogued  and  arranged  in  the  archives  in 
upright  filing  cases,  each  document  being  assigned  to  a  stiff 
folder,  folio  size,  having  upon  it  a  letter  and  a  number  which 
distinguishes  it  from  every  other  document  in  the  files.  The 
numbers  run  in  two  series,  A  and  B.  Series  A  runs  from  I 
to  10,000.  Series  B  is  complete  from  I  to  5500;  and  the  two 
series  combined  cover  the  counties  from  Accomac  to  Orange. 
The  county  groups  from  P  to  Y  inclusive  are  wrapped  sepa 
rately  in  bundles,  awaiting  the  systematic  arrangement  of  the 

ISO  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

other  county  groups.  In  most  instances  double  reference  by 
date  and  by  number  has  been  made  in  the  footnotes  of  this 
monograph  to  the  petitions  that  are  filed  in  the  cases.  Little 
if  any  use  has  been  made,  up  to  this  time,  of  this,  one  of  the 
richest  sources  for  Virginia  history  during  the  period  of  the 
Commonwealth.  The  documents  contain  invaluable  informa 
tion  about  almost  every  subject  that  was  of  interest  to  the 
people  of  the  various  localities  of  the  State  within  the  period 

G.  Virginia  Land  Patents,  folio,  vols.  I  and  2,  1623-1643;  vol.  3» 
1643-1651;  vol.  4,  1652-1655;  vol.  5,  1655-1664;  vol.  6,  1666- 
1679.  Land  Office,  Richmond. 

H.  Tax  Books  (for  various  counties),  1856-60.  Auditor's  Office, 

I.  Transcripts  made  from  original  papers  in  the  British  Public 
Record  Office,  London.  By  Angus  W.  MacDonald,  7  vols., 
1619-1695;  containing  abstracts  or  complete  transcripts  of  581 
documents  relating  to  the  settlement  and  early  history  of 
Virginia.  By  William  Noel  Sainsbury,  20  vols.,  1606-1740; 
containing  abstracts  of  5108  documents  relating  to  early  Vir 
ginia  history.  Virginia  State  Library. 

J.  Letter  Book  of  the  Executive  of  Virginia,  1844-1848,  folio.  Vir 
ginia  State  Library. 

K.  Proclamation  Book;  containing  the  proclamations  of  the  Gov 
ernors  of  Virginia  from  1786  to  Aug.  31,  1801.  Virginia  State 

L.  Land  Books  of  the  City  of  Richmond,  1856-1860.  City  Hall, 


1.  Statutes  at  Large  of  Virginia,  13  vols.,  1619-1792.    By  William 

Waller  Hening.     Richmond,  1819-1820. 

2.  Statutes  at  Large  of  Virginia,   3  vols.,   1792-1807.    By   Samuel 

Sheppard.     Richmond,  1835-1836. 

Being  an  addition  to  Hening's  Statutes,  these  three  volumes 
are  referred  to  in  this  monograph  as  vols.  xiv,  xv,  and  xvi 
of  Hening. 

3.  Acts  of  the  General  Assembly  of  Virginia,  1807-1865. 

4.  Statutes  at  large  of  the  Confederate  States  of  America,  1861- 

1864,  including  both  public  and  private  acts  and  resolutions. 
Edited  by  James  M.  Mathews.  Richmond,  1864. 

5.  Revised  Code  of  Laws  of  Virginia,  2  vols.    Richmond,  1819. 

6.  Supplement  to  the  Revised  Code  of  the  Laws  of  Virginia.    Rich 

mond,  1833. 

7.  Code  of  Virginia.     Richmond,  1849. 

8.  Code  of  Virginia.     Richmond,  1860. 

9.  Constitutions  of  Virginia,  1776,  1830,  1851. 

10.  Reports  of  Cases  Determined  in  the  General  Court  and  the  Su 
preme  Court  of  Appeals  of  Virginia : 
(a)  By  Thomas  Jefferson,  I  vol.,  1730-1740  and  1768-1772. 
(&)  By  Bushrod  Washington,  2  vols.,  1790-1796. 

(c)  By  Daniel  Call,  6  vols.,  1790-1825. 

(d)  By  William  W.   Hening  and  William  Munford,  4  vols., 


O)  By  William  Munford,  6  vols.,  1809-1820. 

(/)  By  Francis  W.  Gilmer,  I  vol.,  1820-1821. 

(g)  By  Peyton  Randolph,  6  vols.,  1821-1828. 

(/i)  By  Benjamin  Watkins  Leigh,  12  vols.,  1829-1842. 

(»)   By  Conway  Robinson,  2  vols.,  1842-1844. 

(/)  By  Peachy  R.  Grattan,  16  vols.,   1844-1865. 

(&)  Virginia  Colonial  Decisions.  The  Reports  by  Sir  John 
Randolph  and  Edward  Barradall  of  Decisions  of  the  Gen 
eral  Court  of  Virginia,  2  vols.,  1728-1741.  Edited  by  R.  T. 
Barton.  Boston,  1909. 


1.  Journals  of  the  House  of  Burgesses,  1727-1776,  8  vols.     Edited 

by  H.  R.  Mcllwaine,  1905-1910. 

2.  Journals  of  the  House  of  Delegates  of  the  Commonwealth  of 

Virginia,  1776-1865.  [Journals  for  May  session  of  1782  and 
session  of  1796  are  missing.]  Richmond. 

3.  Journals  of  the  Senate  of  the  Commonwealth  of  Virginia,  1778- 

1865.  [Missing  Journals:  1780-1784,  1791-1799,  1802-1828, 
1836-1838,  1854-1855,  1856-1860.]  Richmond. 

4.  Proceedings  of  the  Convention  of  Delegates  for  the  Counties  and 

Corporations  of  the  Colony  of  Virginia,  held  at  Richmond 
Town,  in  the  County  of  Henrico,  1775.  Richmond,  1816. 

5.  Proceedings  and  Debates  of  the  Virginia  State  Convention  of 

1829-1830.     Edited  by  Ritchie  and  Cook.     Richmond,   1830. 

6.  Journal,  Acts,  and  Proceedings  of  a  General  Convention  of  the 

State  of  Virginia,  1850.     Richmond. 

7.  Journal  of  the  Congress  of  the  Confederate  States  of  Amer 

ica,  1861-1865.  In  7  vols.  Issued  as  Senate  Document  No. 
234,  58th  Congress,  2nd  Session.  Washington,  1904. 

8.  Documents  of  the  House  of  Delegates,  containing  the  messages 

of  the  Governors  to  the  General  Assemblies  and  annual  re 
ports  of  the  public  officers  of  the  State,  and  of  boards  of  direc 
tors,  visitors,  superintendents,  and  other  supervisors  of  pub 
lic  institutions  of  Virginia,  1814-1865. 

9.  Documents  of  the  Senate,  containing  bills  introduced  and  passed 

by  the  Senate,  reports  of  commissions  and  various  other  state 
papers,  1831-1865. 

10.  Colonial  Records  of  Virginia  (1619-1680).     Issued  as  State  Sen 

ate  Document,  Extra,  1874.     Richmond. 

11.  A   Collection   of   the   Official    Publications   of   the   Confederate 

States  Government.     Virginia  State  Library. 

12.  The  Federal  Censuses  of  the  United  States,  1790  to  1860,  vol 

umes  on  population. 



1.  The  Richmond  Examiner  and  Argus,  August,  i8oo-Febru- 

ary,  1801. 

2.  The  Virginia  Argus,  Richmond,  February,   i8o4-December, 


3.  The  Daily  Dispatch,  Richmond,  1852-1865. 

4.  The  Enquirer,  Richmond,  May,  i8o4-December,  1864. 

1 82  THE   FREE    NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

5.  The  Virginia  Gazette,  Williamsburg,  January,  1767-Decem- 

ber,  1768;  January,  I77i-December,  1777;  February,  1779- 
December,  1779. 

6.  The   Virginia   Gazette  and   General   Advertizer,   Richmond, 

March,  I79i-December,  1809. 

7.  The  Norfolk  and   Portsmouth  Herald,  January-December, 


8.  The  Constitutional  Whig  and  The  Daily  Richmond  Whig, 

Richmond,  1824-1865. 

9.  The  Recorder,  Richmond,  1802-1803. 

10.  The  Virginia  Gazette  and  the  American  Advertizer,  Rich 

mond,  January,  1782-December,  1794. 

11.  The  Enquirer,  Richmond,   1804-1805    [contain  numbers  ex 

amined  to  supplement  files  in  Virginia  State  Library]. 


1.  The  Virginia  Magazine  of  History  and  Biography.     Edited  by 

R.  A.  Brock.     Vols.  i  to  v.     Edited  by  William  G.   Stanard, 
vols.  vi-xix.     Richmond,  1893-1911. 

2.  The  William  and  Mary  College  Quarterly  Historical  Magazine. 

Edited  by  Lyon  G.  Tyler.     Vols.  i-xix.    Williamsburg,  1892- 

3.  Calendar  of  Virginia  State  Papers.     Edited  by  William  P.  Pal 

mer.     Vols.  i-xi.     Richmond,  1875. 

4.  Collections    of    the    Virginia    Historical    Society,    New    Series. 

Edited  by  R.  A.  Brock.     Vols.  i-xx.     Richmond,  1882-1891. 

The  above  serial  publications  are  really  source  books  of  Vir 
ginia  history.  They  make  available  in  published  form  many 
original  and  valuable  manuscripts  from  collections  in  the  Vir 
ginia  Historical  Society,  the  Virginia  State  Archives,  county 
archives,  and  in  the  possession  of  private  individuals. 

5.  The  Commercial  Review  of  the   South  and  West.    A  monthly 

journal   of   trade,    etc.     Edited   by  J.    D.    B.    DeBow.    Vols. 
i-xxxi.     New  Orleans,  1846-1861. 

6.  The  Virginia  Historical  Register  and  Literary  Advertizer.     Edited 

by  William  Maxwell.     Vols.  i-vi.     Richmond,  1848-1853. 

Contains  extracts  from  "records,  journals,  diaries,  letters, 
inscriptions  and  other  relics  of  the  '  olden  time.' " 

7.  The  Lower  Norfolk  County  Virginia  Antiquary.     Edited  by  Ed 

ward  Wilson  James.     Vols.   i-v.     Norfolk,   1897-1906. 

Contains  abstracts  and  gleanings  from  official  records  of 
churches  and  courts  of  Lower  Norfolk  and  Princess  Anne 

8.  Virginia  County  Records.     Published  quarterly  by  the  Genealog 

ical  Association,  New  York  City.     William  Armstrong  Croz- 
ier,  editor.     Vols.  i-vii. 

These  volumes  contain  abstracts  of  wills  and  extracts  from 
other  county  and  probate  court  records  such  as  orders,  mar 
riage  bonds,  and  land  grants. 

9.  The    African    Repository    and    Colonial    Journal.     Vols.    i-xxv. 

Published  by  the  American  Colonization  Society.    Washing 
ton,  1825-1850. 



1.  The   Vestry   Book   and    Register    of    Bristol    Parish,    Virginia, 

1720-1789.  Transcribed  and  published  by  C.  G.  Chamberlayne. 
Richmond,  1898. 

2.  Register  of  Christ's  Church,  Middlesex  County,  Virginia,  1653- 

1812.  Published  by  the  National  Society  of  the  Colonial 
Dames  of  America  in  the  State  of  Virginia.  Richmond,  1897. 

3.  The  Vestry  Book  of  Henrico  Parish,  Virginia,  1730-1773,  from 

the  original  MS.     By  R.  A.  Brock.     Richmond,  1874. 

4.  Register  of  St.  Peter's  Parish,  New  Kent  County,  Virginia,  1680- 

1787.  Published  by  the  National  Society  of  the  Colonial 
Dames  of  America  in  the  State  of  Virginia.  Richmond,  1904. 

5.  Vestry  Book  of  Saint  Peter's  Parish,  New  Kent  County,  Vir 

ginia.  Published  by  the  National  Society  of  Colonial  Dames 
of  America  in  the  State  of  Virginia.  Richmond,  1904. 

6.  Papers    Relating   to    the    History    of    the    Church    in    Virginia, 

1650-1776.  Edited  by  William  S.  Perry.  Privately  printed. 

7.  BAGBY,  REV.  ALFRED.     King  and  Queen  County,  Virginia.     New 

York  and  Washington,  1908. 

8.  BRUCE,  THOMAS.     Southwest  Virginia  and  the  Shenandoah  Val 

ley.     Richmond,  1891. 

9.  BURTON,  REV.  L.  W.    Annals  of  Henrico  Parish,  Diocese  of  Vir 

ginia  and  especially  of  St.  John's  Church,  1611-1884.  Rich 
mond,  1904. 

10.  CARTMELL,  T.  K.     Shenandoah  Valley  Pioneers  and  Their  De 

scendants.  A  History  of  Frederick  County,  Virginia,  from 
its  formation  in  1738  to  1908.  Compiled  mainly  from  orig 
inal  records  of  old  Frederick  County,  now  Hampshire,  Berke 
ley,  Shenandoah,  Jefferson,  Hardy,  Clarke,  Warren,  Morgan, 
and  Frederick.  Privately  published  by  the  author,  1909. 

11.  GOODWIN,  REV.  W.  A.  R.     Historical  Sketch  of  Bruton  Church, 

Williamsburg,  Virginia.      Williamsburg,  1903. 

12.  WISE,  JENNINGS  CROPPER.    Ye  Kingdome  of  Accawmacke;  or, 

the  Eastern  Shore  of  Virginia  in  the  Seventeenth  Century. 
Richmond,  1911. 

13.  WOODS,  REV.  EDGAR.    Albemarle  County  in  Virginia,  giving  some 

account  of  what  it  was  by  nature,  of  what  it  was  made  by  man, 
and  of  some  of  the  men  who  made  it.  Charlottesville,  1901. 


1.  ALEXANDER,    ARCHIBALD.    A    History    of    Colonization    on    the 

Western  Coast  of  Africa.     Philadelphia,  1849. 

2.  ANDREWS,  E.  A.     Slavery  and  the  Domestic  Slave  Trade  in  the 

United  States.  In  a  series  of  letters  addressed  to  the  ex 
ecutive  committee  of  the  American  Union  for  the  relief  and 
improvement  of  the  colored  race.  Boston,  1836. 

3.  ASBURY,  REV.  FRANCIS,  BISHOP  OF  M.  E.  CHURCH.    Journal  from 

Aug.  7,  I77i-Dec.  7,  1815.    3  vols.    New  York,  1821. 

4.  ASHMUM,  J.  History  of  the  African  Colony  in  Liberia,  from 

December,  1821  to  1823.     Compiled  from  the  authentic  records 
of  the  colony.    Washington,  1826. 
Bound  in  "  Slavery  Pamphlets,"  in  Virginia  State  Library. 

184  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

5.  BEVERLY,  ROBERT.     The  History  and  Present  State  of  Virginia, 

in  four  parts.  By  a  native  and  inhabitant  of  the  place.  Lon 
don,  1705. 

6.  BULLOCK,  WILLIAM,   GENT.    Virginia  impartially  examined  and 

left  to  the  publick  view  to  be  considered  by  all  iudicious  and 
honest  men,  etc.  London,  1649.  Pp.  66. 

7.  BURK,  JOHN.     The  History  of  Virginia  from  its  first  settlement 

to  the  present  day.     n  vols.     Petersburg,  Virginia,  1804-1816. 

8.  BURNABY,  ANDREW.     Travels  Through  the  Middle  settlements  of 

North  America,  in  the  years  1759  and  1760.     Pp.  52. 
In  Pinkerton,  J.,  Voyages,  vol.  13. 

9.  "  CALX."    Two  Great  Evils  of  Virginia  and  their  one  Common 


A  pamphlet  written  September  17,  1859,  and  printed  by 
John  W.  Randolph  of  Richmond.  Pp.  18. 

One  of  the  evils  referred  to  was  the  free  negro  and  the 
other  was  the  seduction  of  slaves  by  abolitionists.  Bound  in 
"  Political  Pamphlets,"  vol.  12,  in  Virginia  State  Library. 

10.  CHASE,  A.  M.,  AND  SANBORN,  CHARLES  W.    A  Statistical  View  of 

the  Condition  of  the  Free  and  Slave  States.  Compiled  from 
official  documents.  Boston,  1856. 

11.  CHASTELLUX,  FRANCOIS  JEAN.     Travels  in  North  America  in  the 

years  1780-82.  Translated  from  the  French  by  an  English 
gentleman  who  resided  in  America  at  that  period.  2  vols. 
London,  1787. 

12.  DABNEY,  PROF.  ROBERT  L.     A  Defence  of  Virginia  in  Recent  and 

Pending  Contests  against  the  Sectional  Party.  New  York, 

13.  DEW,  THOMAS  R.     Review  of  the  Debates  in  the  Virginia  Legis 

lature  of  1831-32.     Richmond,  1832. 

14.  FITZHUGH,  GEORGE.     What  shall  be  done  with  the  Free  Negroes. 

Four  essays  written  for  the  Fredericksburg  Recorder,   1851. 
This  is  a  biased  argument  in  favor  of  reducing  free  negroes 
to  slavery. 

15. •     Sociology  for  the  South,  or  The  Failure  of  Free  Society. 

Richmond,  1854. 

16.  FORCE,  PETER.     Tracts  and  Other  Papers,  relating  principally  to 

the  Origin,  Settlement,  and  Progress  of  the  Colonies  of  North 
America,  from  the  discovery  of  the  country  to  the  year  1776. 
4  vols.  Washington,  1836-1846. 

17.  GARLAND,  HUGH  A.    The  Life  of  John  Randolph  of  Roanoke. 

2  vols.     New  York,  1851. 

18.  GODWYN,   MORGAN.     Negro's   and  Indian's   Advocate  suing   for 

their  Admission  into  the  Church:  For  a  persuasive  to  the  in 
structing  and  baptizing  of  the  Negroes  and  Indians  in  our 
Plantations,  To  which  is  added  a  brief  account  of  religion  in 
Virginia.  London,  1680.  Pp.  174. 

19. .  A  Supplement  to  the  Negro's  and  Indian's  Advocate,  or 

some  further  considerations  and  proposals  for  the  effectual 
and  speedy  carrying  on  of  the  Negro's  Christianity  in  our 
plantations  without  any  prejudice  to  their  owners.  London, 
1681.  Pp.  12. 

20.  GOODELL,  WILLIAM.  The  American  Slave  Code  in  theory  and 
practice:  Its  distinctive  features  shown  by  its  statutes,  judicial 
decisions,  and  illustrative  facts.  Fourth  edition.  New  York, 


21.  HAMMOND,  JOHN.    Leah  and  Rachel,  or  the  Two  Fruitfull  Sis 

ters  Virginia,  and  Mary-Land:  Their  Present  Condition,  Im 
partially  stated  and  related.  London,  1656. 

22.  HARTWELL,  BLAIR,  AND  CHILTON.    The  Present  State  of  Virginia 

and  the  College.    London,  1727.     Pp.  95. 

23.  HILDRETH,    RICHARD.    The    History   of    the    United    States   of 

America  from  the  discovery  of  the  continent  to  the  organiza 
tion  of  the  government  under  the  Federal  Constitution.  1497- 
1789.  Revised  edition.  3  vols.  New  York,  1856. 

24.  HOWE,  HENRY.    Historical  Collections  of  Virginia.     Charleston, 

S.  C,  1852. 

25.  HOWISON,  ROBERT  R.    A  History  of  Virginia  from  its  Discovery 

and  Settlement  by  Europeans  to  the  Present  Time.  2  vols. 
Richmond,  1848. 

26.  JAY,    WILLIAM.    Miscellaneous    writings    on    Slavery.    Boston, 


27. .     Slavery  in  America :  or  An  Inquiry  into  the  character 

and  tendency  of  the  American  Colonization  and  the  American 
Anti-Slavery  Societies.  London,  1835. 

28.  JEFFERSON,  THOMAS.  Writings.  Edited  by  P.  L.  Ford.  10  vols. 
New  York,  1892-1899. 

29. .    Notes  on  the  State  of  Virginia  with  an  appendix.    Third 

American  edition.     New  York,  1801. 

30.  LEIGH,  BENJAMIN  WATKINS.  The  letter  of  Appomattox  to  the 
People  of  Virginia  exhibiting  a  connected  view  of  the  recent 
proceedings  in  the  House  of  Delegates  on  the  subject  of  aboli 
tion  of  slavery;  and  a  succinct  account  of  the  doctrines 
broached  by  the  friends  of  abolition  in  debate;  and  the  mis 
chievous  tendencies  of  those  proceedings  and  doctrines. 
Richmond,  1832. 

31. .    Virginia  Slavery  Debate.     Richmond,  1832. 

Contains  nine  of  the  speeches  delivered  by  members  of  the 
House  of  Delegates  of  1831-1832  on  the  policy  of  the  State 
in  relation  to  her  colored  population,  and  the  Letter  of  Appo 
mattox  to  the  People  of  Virginia. 

32.  MADISON,  JAMES.    Letters  and  other  Writings  of  James  Madison. 

In  four  volumes,  published  by  order  of  Congress,  1769-1836. 
New  York,  1884. 

33.  MONROE,  JAMES.     The  Writings  of  James  Monroe,  including  a 

collection  of  his  public  aad  private  papers  and  correspondence 
now  for  the  first  time  printed  (1778-1831).  Edited  by  S.  M. 
Hamilton.  7  vols.  New  York,  1898-1903. 

34.  NEILL,  EDWARD  D.     History  of  the  Virginia  Company  of  London, 

with  letters  to  and  from  the  first  colony  never  before  printed. 
Albany,  N.  Y.,  1869. 

35.  OLMSTEAD,  FREDERICK  LAW.    A  Journey  in  the  Seaboard  Slave 

States,  with  remarks  on  their  economy.     New  York,  1856. 

36.  ROWLAND,  KATE  MASON.    The  life  of  George  Mason,  1725-1792. 

Including  his  Speeches,  Public  Papers,  and  Correspondence; 
with  an  Introduction  by  General  Fitzhugh  Lee.  2  vols.  New 
York,  1892. 

37.  RUFFIN,  EDMUND.    African  Colonization  Unveiled.    By  Edmund 

Ruffin.    Washington  [1859?].    Pp.  32.    Virginia  State  Library. 
38. .    The  Political  Economy  of  Slavery,  or  the  institution  con 
sidered  in  regard  to  its  influence  on  public  wealth  and  the 

1 86  THE   FREE   NEGRO   IN   VIRGINIA,    1619-1865 

general  welfare,  with  an  appendix  on  the  influence  of  slavery, 
or  of  its  absence,  on  manners,  morals,  and  intellect.  1852. 
Pp.  32. 

39.  SCHOOLCRAFT,   HENRY   R.     Information   respecting   the   History, 

Condition  and  Prospects  of  the  Indian  Tribes  of  the  United 
States.  5  vols.  Philadelphia,  1855. 

40.  SLAUGHTER,  PHILIP.     Virginia  History  of  African  Colonization. 

Richmond,  1855. 

41.  SMITH,    CAPT.    JOHN.    Works,    1608-1631.    Edited   by    Edward 

Arber.     Birmingham,  England,  1884. 

42.  STITH,  WILLIAM.     The  history  of  the  first  discovery  and  settle 

ment  of  Virginia :  being  an  essay  towards  a  general  history  of 
this  colony.  Williamsburg,  Virginia,  1747. 

43.  STRINGFELLOW,  B.  F.    Negro  Slavery  no  Evil ;  or  the  North  and 

the  South.  A  report  to  the  Platte  county  self-defence  asso 
ciation,  St.  Louis:  1854.  Pp.  38. 

Bound  in  "  Slavery  Pamphlets "  in  the  library  of  William 
and  Mary  College. 

44.  STROUD,  GEORGE  M.    A  Sketch  of  the  Laws  Relating  to  Slavery 

in  the  Several  States  of  America.     Philadelphia,  1827. 

45.  TUCKER,  GEORGE.     Progress  of  The  United  States  in  Population 

and  Wealth  in  fifty  years,  as  exhibited  by  the  decennial  Cen 
sus  from  1790  to  1840.  New  York,  1855. 

46.  TUCKER,  ST.  GEORGE.     A  Dissertation  on  Slavery  with  a  proposal 

for  the  gradual  abolition  of  it  in  the  State  of  Virginia.  Phil 
adelphia,  1796.  Pp.  106. 

A  second  edition  was  printed  in  1803  as  an  appendix  to  the 
author's  Commentaries  on  Blackstone. 

47.  A  Dialogue  Concerning  the  Slavery  of  the  Africans ;  Shewing  it 

to  be  the  Duty  and  Interest  of  the  American  States  to  eman 
cipate   all   their   African    Slaves.    With   an   Address   to  the 
owners  of  such  Slaves,  New  York,  1785.     Norwich,  1796. 
A  rare  pamphlet  in  Virginia  State  Library. 

48.  Political  Pamphlets. 

A  collection  of  45  bound  volumes  of  miscellaneous  pamph 
lets,  most  of  which  refer  to  political  events  immediately  pre 
ceding  or  during  the  Civil  War,  in  Virginia  State  Library. 

49.  Views   of   American    Slavery,    taken   a   century   ago.    Anthony 

Benzet,  John  Wesley,  etc.     Philadelphia,  1858. 

This  pamphlet  contains  a  miscellaneous  collection  of  views 
of  slavery  in  the  eighteenth  century.  It  is  important  on  man 
umission  sentiment  in  Virginia. 


Aberdeen,  a  slave  set  free,  62. 

Abolition  Society,  the  Virginia, 
58  n. 

Abolitionists,  attacks  of,  79;  ef 
forts  of,  reanimate  harsh  laws, 

Adams,  John,  Mayor  of  Rich 
mond,  142. 

Adams,  Ned,  free  negro,  153. 

Africans,  first  brought  to  Vir 
ginia,  16. 

Anglican  church,  aid  of,  to  ne 
groes,  40,  41 ;  labors  to  edu 
cate  them,  138. 

Angus,  Judith,  free  negress, 
owns  two  slaves,  93 ;  will  of, 

Anthony,  negro  in  Virginia  in 
1623,  24,  24  n. 

Apprentices,  free  negro,  40,  41 ; 
to  be  given  instruction,  138, 
I39>"  opposition  to,  149,  149  n. 

"Aristocracy,"  negro,  133-135- 

Bacon,  Nathaniel,  sr.,  will  of,  51. 

Bagwell,  Jack,  free  negro  sold 
into  slavery,  175. 

Ballagh,  Dr.  J.  C,  18,  18  n.,  20. 

Bancroft,  George,  121. 

Banishment,  penalty  upon  white 
persons  marrying  negroes,  124; 
of  slaves  freed  after  1806,  70; 
spasmodic  enforcement  of  law 
requiring,  174  et  seq. 

Baptism,  of  free  negroes,  12, 
12 n.;  of  slaves  does  not  be 
stow  freedom,  137. 

Baptists,  favorable  toward  manu 
mission,  58;  offer  education 
and  Christianity  to  negroes, 
141-143  ;  African  churches,  143. 

Barbers,  free  negro,  151. 

Barlow,  Betsey,  manumits  and 
renames  two  slaves,  84  n. 

Barnhouse,  Anne,  discharges  a 
negro  servant,  48. 

Barr,  John,  will  of,  setting  slaves 
free,  44. 

Beasley,  Thomas,  petitions  to  be 
allowed  to  use  firelock,  97. 

Berkeley,  Governor,  estimate  of 
black  population  of  Virginia, 

Beverly,  Robert,  18;  defines  over 
seer,  38. 

Bilberry,  Benjamin,  slave  of,  set 
free  by  act  of  legislature,  44. 

Bill  of  Rights,  appealed  to  in  be 
half  of  negroes,  61 ;  principles 
of,  interpreted  by  courts,  98. 

Binford,  William,  last  will  of, 
56  n.,  61. 

Bird,  Samuel,  a  free  mulatto,  65. 

Black  masters,  or  free  negro 
slave-owners,  78,  90-94. 

Bledsoe,  A.  T.,  defends  slavery, 

Bowlagh,  Lewis,  free  negro,  in 
War  of  1812,  in;  gave  infor 
mation  concerning  plot,  169. 

Brady,  Daniel,  free  negro,  sur 
rendered  by  his  father  to  stand 
trial,  169. 

Brodnax,  General,  on  deporta 
tion  of  free  negroes,  90,  172, 
173  n. ;  on  constitutional  rights 
of  free  negroes,  122. 

Brown,  Titus,  free  negro,  176. 

Bruce,  Thomas,  133. 

Bruton  parish,  free  negroes  in, 

Burdett,  William,  inventory  of 
estate,  36. 

Burk,  John,  history  of  Virginia, 
16 ;  on  emancipation,  75  n. 

Burnaby,  Andrew,  observations 
of,  54;  on  two  laws  of  Vir 
ginia,  H7n. 

Bushrod,  Thomas,  purchaser  of 
mulatto  as  slave,  31. 

Caesar,  a  slave,  set  free,  62. 

"  Calx,"  on  manumission,  81 ;  on 
intermarriage  of  free  negroes 
and  slaves,  132;  on  illiteracy 
of  free  negroes,  145;  scheme 




for  reducing  free  negro  popu 
lation,  16,  I59n. 

Cambew,    Emanuel,    negro,    ac 
quires  title  to  land,  38. 
Campbell,  history  of  Virginia,  16. 
Capitation  tax,  on  free  negroes, 


Carter,  John,  will  of,  51. 
Casor,  John,  negro  servant  of  a 
negro,  32;  gains  his  freedom, 
32;  reduced  to  slavery,  33; 
owned  by  Anthony  Johnson, 
negro,  93. 

Charlton,  Stephen,  26,  27. 
Christian  servants,  21,  31,  37,  39, 


Christianity,  test  of  freedom,  22. 
Church    wardens,    care    of,    for 

mulatto  bastards,  40,  41,  138. 
Citizenship,  of  free  negroes,  120- 
122 ;    Bancroft's    opinion   con 
cerning,    121 ;   Judge   Tucker's 
opinion  concerning,  121. 
Clark,  Bowling,  negro,  purchases 

freedom  of  wife,  77. 
Classes  of  free  negroes,  40,  41. 
Clemenze,     Scott,     free     negro, 

property  tax  of,  H4n. 
Colonization,  resolution  in  legis 
lature  concerning,  65,  73;  cor 
respondence  concerning,  be 
tween  Monroe  and  Jefferson, 
66;  becomes  an  important  is 
sue,  71 ;  appropriations  for,  73 ; 
failure  of,  74  n. ;  Brodnax  on, 
oo,  172. 

Colonization  Society,  American, 
735  Virginia,  73,  157;  Powha- 
tan,  75 ;  Richmond,  petition  of, 
76;  Fairfax  County,  memorial 
of,  171  n.;  misrepresentations 
of  free  negroes  in  memorials, 
157,  171 ;  tax  levied  on  free 
negroes  for,  115;  money  spent 
for,  115. 

Constitution,  state,  68,  122;  Fed 
eral,  provisions  respecting  cit 
izenship,  121. 

Cook,  Harriet,  free  negress,  peti 
tion  in  behalf  of,  153,  154. 
Cook,  history  of  Virginia,  16. 
Cooper,  Phil,  petition  of,  92  n. ; 

in  bondage  to  wife,  92  n. 
Corporal    punishment,    adminis 
tered  to  free  negroes,  105, 161  n. 

Cowen,  Philip,  defrauded  of  free 
dom,  34. 

Criminal  tendencies  of  free  ne 
groes,  164-167. 

Cuffee,  William  Miles,  free  ne 
gro,  intimidated  by  mob,  173. 

Cuffie,  James,  free  negro,  li 
censed  to  keep  a  gun,  96  n. 

Dabney,  Sally,  slave  of  husband, 
93;  incapable  of  receiving  be 
quest  of  property,  93. 

Day,  James,  no. 

Debts,  free  negroes  sold  for,  82, 


Declaration  of  Independence,  56, 
56  n. ;  in  contradiction  of  slave 
laws,  62  n. ;  doctrines  of,  held 
not  to  apply  to  negroes,  98. 

Delony,  Henry,  negro  slave  of, 
set  free,  44. 

Dew,  Thomas  R.,  defends  slav 
ey*  79  >  "Essay  on  Slavery," 
81 ;  views  regarding  criminal 
tendencies  of  free  negroes, 
158;  views  concerning  behavior 
of  free  negroes  in  Virginia, 
170  n. 

Disfranchisement,  of  free  ne 
groes,  119. 

Dogs,  free  negroes  not  allowed 
to  own,  97,  98. 

Doyle,  Benjamin,  grant  of  land 
to,  37- 

Dregis,  Emanuel,  negro  servant, 
26,  27,  28,  28  n. 

Dregis,  Frances,  27. 

Dregis,  Jane,  26,  27. 

Dungie,  John,  an  Indian,  mar 
ries  mulatto,  129. 

Dunmore,  Governor,  44. 

Dutch,  bring  in  cargo  of  negroes, 
17,  22 ;  import  duties  on  slaves 
assessed  upon,  19;  importers 
of  negroes,  20 n.;  plantation 
of,  30  n. 

Edloe,  Henry,  89  n. 

Education,  free  negroes  forbid 
den  to  leave  State  to  obtain, 
107 ;  opportunities  for,  open  to 
free  negroes,  137-145;  of  ne 
gro  apprentices,  138,  139. 

Elkonheade,  Jane,  discharges  ne 
gro  servant,  29. 



Emancipation,  progress  of,  in 
Virginia,  Maryland,  and  north 
ern  colonies,  55;  propositions 
looking  to,  59,  60 ;  accomplished 
in  Virginia,  42,  42  n. 

Emanuel,  free  negro,  reveals  plot, 

Employment  of  free  negroes, 

Equity  courts,  open  to  free  ne 
groes,  101. 

Ermana,  slave  woman,  escheats 
to  literary  fund,  93. 

Ex-slaves,  removal  of,  provided 
for,  51,  71,  156,  174;  law  of 
1806  concerning,  not  enforced, 

Farnando,  Bashasar,  negro  owner 
of  property,  27,  28. 

Farrar,  John,  last  will,  50. 

Firearms,  free  negroes  forbidden 
to  own  or  carry,  52,  95;  free 
negroes  licensed  to  keep,  96, 
96  n. ;  petition  of  free  negro 
farmers  concerning,  97. 

Fiske,  John,  79. 

Fitzgerald,  John,  will  of,  con 
strued,  87  n. 

Fitzhugh,  George,  defends  slav 
ery,  80. 

Fitzhugh,  Giles,  frees  slaves,  85. 

Floyd,  Governor,  143  n.,  166. 

"  Free  niggers."  See  "  Men  of 

"Free  papers,"  free  negroes  re 
quired  to  have,  101,  107;  prima 
facie  evidence  of  freedom,  100, 
101 ;  free  negroes  imprisoned 
for  want  of,  107  n. ;  transferred 
by  free  negroes  to  slaves,  64, 
64  n.;  forged  by  slaves,  64, 
64  n. 

Freedom,  purchased  by  slaves, 
63,  77,  170. 

Freedom  dues,  negro  servants 
entitled  to,  34  n.,  39,  49. 

Freehold,  definition  of,  119;  as 
requirement  for  voting,  119. 

Friends.     See  Quakers. 

Fuller,  Betsey,  owns  her  husband 
as  slave,  92  n. 

Gabriel  Insurrection,  64,  65,  65  n., 
69;  effect  of,  on  negro  educa 

tion,  140;  no  evidence  of  free 
negroes  in,  167. 

Gatch,  Philip,  liberates  slaves,  58. 

Geaween,  John,  negro  servant, 

Giles,  Governor  William  B.,  pro 
cures  reform  of  criminal  laws 
applicable  to  free  negroes,  164; 
condemns  discriminations 
against  free  negroes,  165. 

Gingaskin   Indians,   128,   128  n. 

Glary,  John,  servant,  47. 

Glasgow,  Ellen,  "The  Battle- 
Ground,"  133. 

Gooch,  Governor,  53  n. 

Goodell,  W.,  54- 

Gowen,  Mihil,  set  free,  48. 

Grayson,  Colonel  William,  sets 
free  slaves,  56  n. 

Greene,  Rev.   Charles,  53. 

Gromes,  Frank,  purchases  free 
dom  of  his  family,  91,  92. 

Gwyn,  Hugh,  servants  of,  29. 

Habeas  corpus,  free  negroes  en 
titled  to  writ  of,  101,  102,  102  n. 

Hailstock,  Rosetta,  set  free,  45  n.  ; 
purchases  freedom  of  her  chil 
dren,  170. 

Hamander,  John  G.,  negro  serv 
ant,  26. 

Harmonites,  befriend  negroes, 

Harris,  James,  free  negro,  96. 

Harris,  John,  negro,  land  deeded 
to,  38. 

Hawkins,  Peter,  deed  of  manu 
mission  to  his  wife  Rose,  84. 

"  Head  rights,"  claimed  by  ne 
gro,  25,  37,  88. 

Heth,  William,  wants  free  negro 
laborers,  147  n. 

Hill,  James  H.,  free  black  man, 


Hill,  Joseph,  last  will  of,  61. 

Hiter,  Abram,  free  negro,  loon. 

Hobday,  Thomas,  139. 

Holmes,  William,  mulatto,  de 
serter  from  Revolutionary 
Army,  lion. 

Hopes,  John,  free  negro,  153. 

House  of  Burgesses,  right  of,  to 
manumit  slaves,  45. 

Howe,  Henry,  174. 



Howell,  Peggy,  children  of,  kid 
napped,  100. 

Hungar's  parish,  negroes  in,  u. 

Hunnicutt,  Cloister,  bequeathes 
slaves  to  Monthly  Meeting,  57. 

Illiteracy,  of  free  negroes,  145, 

Immigration  of  free  negroes 
forbidden,  64;  laws  concern 
ing,  revised,  66. 

Indentures  of  negro  servants, 
26,  32,  38. 

Indians,  not  to  be  slaves,  19 ; 
forbidden  to  purchase  Chris 
tian  servants,  91 ;  presumed  at 
law  to  be  free,  99 ;  denied  right 
to  hold  office,  116;  not  to  be 
admitted  as  witnesses,  117; 
social  and  marriage  relations 
with  free  negroes,  41,  127-130; 
Gingaskins,  128;  Nottoways, 
128;  Pamunkeys,  129,  129  n. 

Infidels,  forbidden  to  purchase 
Christian  servants,  91  n. 

Ingle,  Edward,  on  manumission 
sentiment,  80. 

Insurrections,  negro,  feared,  52, 
168;  Gabriel,  64,  65,  65  n.,  69, 
140,  167;  Southampton,  80,  144, 

Intermarriage,  of  free  negroes 
and  Indians,  127-130;  of  free 
negroes  and  slaves,  130-133; 
of  negroes  with  whites,  123, 
124,  126. 

Isdel,  James,  138. 

Jackson,  Samuel,  free  negro,  170. 

James  City  County,  free  negroes 
in,  15. 

James,  David,  free  negro,  138. 

Jefferson,  Thomas,  on  status  of 
first  negroes  brought  to  Vir 
ginia,  24;  favors  emancipation, 
54;  proposes  freedom  of  man 
umission,  55,  56  n.,  59;  on  colo 
nization,  66;  concerning  f reed- 
men,  75;  on  effect  of  slavery 
on  character  of  bondmen,  160. 

Johnson,  Anthony,  free  negro, 
exempted  from  taxation,  24, 
24  n.,  25,  25  n. ;  owner  of  negro 
servant,  32,  33;  land  grant  to, 

Johnson,  James,  will  of,  86  n. 

Johnson,  John,  negro  landowner, 

Johnson,  John,  sr.,  negro,  suit 
against,  38. 

Johnson,  Mary,  free  negress,  24, 
24  n.,  25  n. 

Johnson,  Richard,  free  negro 
landowner,  25,  38. 

Johnson,  Samuel,  free  negro,  131. 

Jones,  David  A.,  sells  slaves  to  a 
black  man,  91,  92. 

Jones,  Robert,  deeds  land  to  ne 
gro,  38. 

Jubilee,  Jane,  free  negress,  wife 
of  slave,  134  n. 

Jury  trial,  allowed  to  free  ne 
groes,  103 ;  denied  to  them,  104. 

Kidnapping  of  free  negroes,  pen 
alty  for,  99;  decision  relating 
to,  100;  reward  for  offenders, 

Kingsmall,  Richard,  23  n. 

Kitt,  set  free  by  legislative  act, 

Lafayette,  Marquis,  slave  spy  of, 
62  n. ;  inquiry  of,  concerning 
free  negro  insurrection,  167. 

Landowners,  free  negro,  25,  37, 

Lee,  Arthur,  slave,  purchases 
freedom  of  himself  and  wife, 

Lee,  Governor  Henry,  proclama 
tion  of,  100. 

Legal  rights  of  free  negroes,  to 
own  and  alienate  property,  88- 
90 ;  to  own  and  sell  slaves,  90- 
94 ;  limited  as  to  ownership  of 
white  servants,  94;  limited  as 
to  ownership  of  firearms,  95~ 
97;  limited  as  to  ownership  of 
dogs,  97,  98;  to  freedom  from 
unjust  restraint  of  liberty,  98- 
102;  means  of  asserting,  102- 
104 ;  to  go  from  place  to  place, 
106-108;  to  enslave  themselves, 

Light,  George,  owns  indented 
negro  servant,  26;  judgment 
against,  38. 

London  Company,  servitude  in, 


Lucas,  Charles,  defrauds  a  negro 
servant  of  his  freedom,  34. 

Ludlowe,  Thomas,  owner  of  ne 
groes,  36. 

Lynch-law  for  controlling  free 
negroes,  172,  173. 

Madison,  James,  favors  manu 
mission,  81 ;  on  negro  insur 
rections,  167. 

Malacai,  mulatto  boy,  to  be 
taught  trade,  139. 

Manumission,  free  negro  popu 
lation  increased  by,  41 ;  mean 
ing  of  term,  42;  methods  of, 
42 ;  by  special  act  of  the  legis 
lature,  43-45 ;  precedents  found 
in  customs  of  servitude,  46- 
50;  right  of,  restricted  bylaw, 
51;  right  denied  except  for 
meritorious  service,  53;  un 
popular  in  colony,  53,  53  n. ; 
growth  of  sentiment  favorable 
to,  54-59;  law  permitting  free 
dom  of,  proposed  in  legisla 
ture,  55;  movement  favoring, 
aided  by  religious  societies,  57- 
59;  proposed  law  enacted,  59, 
59  n. ;  produces  sudden  increase 
of  free  negro  class,  61 ;  aided 
by  Revolutionary  philosophy, 
61,  62 ;  evil  results  of,  64,  65 ; 
repeal  of  act  of  1782  proposed 
and  debated,  67-69;  effect  of 
law  of  1806  upon,  70,  71 ;  prop 
osition  relating  to,  74;  causes 
of  decline  in  frequency  of,  70- 
82 ;  relation  of,  to  economic 
conditions,  77-82;  stages  in 
progress  of,  summarized,  82; 
legal  aspects  of,  82-87 ;  instru 
ments  of,  83,  84;  in  future,  86. 

Marshall,  Thomas,  in  debate  of 
1832,  90,  158;  thought  free  ne 
groes  a  barrier  to  servile  in 
surrection,  169. 

Martin,  Nicholas,  last  will,  49. 

Mayo,  Joseph,  frees  slaves,  56. 

Medlicott,  Richard,  Spanish  mu 
latto,  39  n. 

"  Men  of  color,"  and  "  free  nig 
gers  "  distinguished,  159. 

Mercer,  General,   157. 

Methodists,  favor  manumission, 
57;  disapprove  of  slavery,  58, 

58 n.;  petition  for  gradual  abo 
lition,  60  n. ;  to  be  spared  by 
insurgent  negroes,  65;  offer 
Christianity  to  negroes,  139, 
139  n.,  140;  arouse  hostility  of 
slave  owners,  141. 

Military  service  required  of  free 
negroes,  109-112. 

Militia,  free  negroes  in,  95;  reg 
ulation  for  enlistment  of  free 
negroes,  96. 

Miller,  John,  free  negro,  account 
of  his  life,  H2n. 

Millers,  roguish  slave,  aid  to  free 
negroes,  162. 

Monroe,  Governor,  on  coloniza 
tion,  66;  favorable  toward 
manumission,  81. 

Moorman,  Charles,  56. 

Moral  character  of  the  free  ne 
groes,  156-159- 

Moravians,  befriend  negroes,  140. 

Morgan,  Philip,  negro  lessee,  38. 

Morris,  Richard,  on  taxation  of 
slaves,  78  n. 

Moseby,  C.  L.,  157. 

Moses,  free  negro,  reveals  con 
spiracy,  169. 

Mulattoes,  Spanish,  39;  classes 
of,  40,  41 ;  set  free,  44 ;  de 
tested  by  whites,  125 ;  number 
in  Virginia  in  1860,  127;  dis 
tinguished  from  mustees,  130. 

Mundin,  William,  free  mulatto, 
apprenticed  to  free  negro,  95 
n.,  151. 

Mustees,  128,  128  n.,  130. 

Mustizos.     See  Mustees. 

Natural  rights,  philosophy  of, 
54,  55;  interpreted  to  apply  to 
negroes,  56,  59;  victory  for,  61. 

Navy,  Confederate,  free  negroes 
in,  112;  United  States,  1 12, 
112  n. 

Nottoway  Indians,  128. 

Occupations    of     free    negroes, 

149,  150. 
Offices,    free   negroes    forbidden 

to  hold,  116. 
Olmstead,  F.  L.,  157. 
Overseers,  negro,  38. 
Overseers  of  poor,  to  bind  out 

free  negroes,  41,   139;  to  sell 



free     negroes     remaining     in 
State  in  violation  of  law,  175. 

Pamunkey  Indians,  129,  129  n. 

Parke,  Daniell,  manumits  slave, 
50,  51  n. 

Parker,  Henry,  free  negro,  153. 

Parker,  Robert,  sued  by  a  free 
negro,  33. 

Parrish,  Col.  Jolly,  lion. 

Payne,  John,  frees  his  slave,  56. 

Pedro,  John,  negro,  23  n. 

Petition,  of  ninety-one  free  ne 
groes,  142;  right  of,  belonging 
to  free  negroes,  103. 

Philosophy  of  the  Revolution, 
effect  on  slavery,  55,  56 ;  favor 
able  to  freedom,  59. 

Pillory,  negro  compelled  to  stand 
in,  124  n. 

Pleasants,  John,  last  will,  57. 

Pleasants,  Jonathan,  56  n. 

Pleasants,  Robert,  frees  slaves, 

Poll  tax.     See  Capitation  tax. 

Poor  whites,  unable  to  compete 
successfully  with  free  negroes, 
147,  148,  156. 

Population,  free  colored  in  Vir 
ginia,  compared  with  that  of 
other  States,  9-13 ;  increase  of, 
39-41 ;  from  1782  to  1810,  61 ; 
from  1820  to  1840,  80;  relative 
to  slaves  in  colonial  period, 

Pott,  Francis,  26,  27,  34,  34  n., 

Pott,  John,  34,  34  n. 

Preachers,  negro,  forbidden  to 
preach,  144. 

Presbyterians,  favorable  toward 
manumission,  58. 

Prostitution  among  free  negroes, 
how  dealt  with,  172. 

Pryne,  Francis,  negro  discharged 
from  servitude,  29. 

Punch,  John,  negro  servant,  29, 


Punishments,  prescribed  by  law 
for  free  negroes,  104-106. 

Quakers,  favor  manumission,  57, 
58,  58 n.;  urged  to  free  slaves, 
62 ;  condemn  slavery  and  the 
slave  trade,  62  n. ;  to  be  spared 

by  insurgent  negroes,  65 ;  offer 
instruction  to  free  negroes,  139, 
140,  141. 

Quickley,  Mary,  free  black  wo 
man,  owns  slave,  94. 

Rachel,  free  negress,  wife  of 
slave,  131. 

Radford,  George,  negro,  pur 
chases  a  slave,  91. 

Radford,  James,  sells  slave  to  a 
black  freeman,  91. 

Randolph,  John,  of  Roanoke,  lib 
erated  slaves  of,  driven  from 
Ohio,  72;  will  of,  76,  85,  85  n. 

Reginald,  Mr.,  runaway  negro 
of,  30  n. 

Registers.     See  "Free  papers." 

Registration  of  free  negroes, 
101,  108,  178. 

Revolutionary  War,  service  in, 
by  slaves  rewarded  with  free 
dom,  62,  62  n.;  free  negroes 
in,  no,  non. 

Rew,  Richard,  purchases  free 
negro,  175. 

Richmond  Enquirer,  attitude  to 
ward  manumission  in  1805,  68; 
on  variance  of  laws  and  senti 
ment,  173. 

Richmond  Recorder,  manumis 
sion  opposed  by,  75. 

Richmond  Whig,  on  free  negro 
labor,  149. 

Rolfe,  Master  John,  22. 

Rowan,  Pleasant,  free  negro 
carpenter,  153. 

Ruffin,  Edmund,  defends  slav 
ery,  80;  views  in  regard  to 
manumission,  85. 

Sabb,  John,  free  negro,  purchased 
and  manumitted  father-in-law, 

Sampson,  Jacob,  free  negro,  li 
cense  of,  to  keep  an  ordinary 
revoked,  149  n. 

Santo  Domingo,  negro  insurrec 
tion  in,  67,  67  n.,  167. 

Schools,  free  colored,  not  al 
lowed  by  law,  144,  145. 

Schwartz,  J.  A.,  nuncupative 
will  of,  concerning  his  slaves, 
85  n. 



Servitude,  distinguished  from 
slavery,  18;  white,  or  indented, 
beginning  of,  22;  negro  servi 
tude,  25-31,  38;  encroachments 
of  slavery  upon,  31-34. 

Shakers,  befriend  negroes,  140. 

Sheepraising,  free  negroes  and 
dogs  a  menace  to,  97,  97  n. 

Sheppard,  Robert,  28. 

Slavery  debate  of  1832,  135. 

Slavery,  what  is  evidence  of,  18; 
distinguished  from  servitude, 
18;  developed  in  customary 
law,  18,  19;  servitude  the  his 
toric  basis  of,  18  n. ;  first  act 
concerning,  19;  Indian,  19; 
legislative  sanction  of,  21-22; 
Ballagh's  history  of,  20;  earli 
est  records  of,  34-37;  abol 
ished  in  Virginia,  42  n. 

Slaves,  permitted  to  give  testi 
mony  against  free  negroes,  66; 
owned  by  free  negroes,  77,  91- 
95 ;  social  relations  with  free 
negroes,  130-137. 

Smith,  Colonel  William,  31. 

Smith,  Governor,  on  free  negro 
labor,  147,  148;  characterizes 
free  negroes,  157,  157  n. ;  opin 
ion  concerning  lack  of  indus 
try  among  free  negroes,  171. 

Smyth,  of  Wythe  County,  op 
poses  manumission,  67. 

Stafford,  Christopher,  48. 

Stephens,  Rice,  free  negro,  131. 

Stringfellow,  Rev.  Dr.  Thornton, 
defends  slavery,  80. 

Suffrage,  rights  shared  by  free 
negroes,  117-119;  denied  to 
free  negroes,  119,  120. 

Taxation,  of  free  negroes,  112- 

Taxpayers,  free  negroes  as,  1151*. 

Taylor,  John  E.,  will  of,  86  n. 

Testimony,  free  negroes  not  al 
lowed  to  give,  against  a  white 
man,  116,  117;  slaves  permit 
ted  to  give,  against  free  ne 
groes,  66. 

Thacker,  Samuel,  gift  to  servant, 

Thomas,  Fortune,  free  negress, 
petition  in  behalf  of,  154. 

Tidewater,  free  negro  popula 
tion  of,  13,  14,  15. 

Trans-Allegheny,  free  negro  pop 
ulation  of,  13,  14.  i 

Trial  of  free  negroes,  method  of, 

Tucker,  St.  George,  u,  12,  17; 
on  progress  of  manumission  in 
Virginia,  61  n. ;  decision  of,  in 
suit  for  freedom,  98,  98  n. ;  on 
citizenship  of  negroes,  121. 

Turner,  Nat,  insurrection,  144. 

Tyner,  Uriah,  free  negro,  peti 
tion  in  behalf  of,  152. 

Unlawful  meetings  of  negroes, 
52;  of  slaves,  141  n. 

Vagrants,  free  negroes  as,  107, 
107  n. ;  liable  to  arrest,  155. 

Valley  of  Virginia,  free  negro 
population  of,  13,  14. 

Vaughan,  Richard,  discharge  of 
negro,  47;  last  will  and  testa 
ment  of,  49,  49  n. 

Vaughn,  Craddock,  quadroon 
children  of,  135. 

Viney,  Joseph  and  James,  free 
negroes,  petition  to  keep  fire 
locks,  97. 

Voting.     See  Suffrage. 

Walker,  Major  Peter,  inventory 
of  slaves  of,  36. 

Wall,  Anne,  banished  from  col 
ony,  124. 

War  of  1812,  free  negroes  serve 
in,  in;  poll-tax  on  free  ne 
groes  to  support,  114. 

Warner,  Daniel,  free  negro  bar 
ber,  153. 

Warwick,  Hannah,  38. 

'Washington,  George,  on  slaves 
as  property,  78. 

West,  Reuben,  free  negro  slave 
owner,  95  n. ;  property  tax  on, 
H3n. ;  occupation  as  barber, 

West,    Richard,    on    free   negro 

suffrage,  119. 
Whitehead,  Thomas,  last  will  of, 

49,  50,  89  n. 
Whittaker,  William,  petition  of, 




Whittington,  William,  sold  negro 
slave,  34. 

Will,  negro  slave,  set  free  by 
legislature,  43,  52.  _ 

Wilson,  Henry,  on  introduction 
of  negroes  into  Virginia,  17;  in 
error  concerning  manumission 
laws  of  Virginia,  82  n. 

Wise,  Governor  Henry  A.,  on 
need  of  free  negro  labor,  155; 
on  general  character  of  free 
negroes,  166;  on  banishment  of 
free  negroes,  177. 

'Witness,  limited  ability  of  free 
negroes  to  become,  116,  117; 
charge  administered  to  free 
negro  witnesses,  117.  See  also 

Wood,  Janette,  free  negress,  92. 

Wyatt,  Sir  Francis,  24. 

Wythe,  George,  decision  of,  as 
chancellor,  98. 

Yates,  William,  free  negro,  will 

of,  89  n. 
Yeardly,  George,  23  n. 


John  Henderson  Russell  was  born  in  Lee  County,  Vir 
ginia,  April  8,  1884,  and  received  his  elementary  and  sec 
ondary  education  in  the  public  schools  and  in  the  Jonesville 
Institute.  After  teaching  for  two  years  in  the  public  schools 
of  Lee  County,  he  entered  Emory  and  Henry  College  in 
1904,  and  received  the  degree  of  Bachelor  of  Arts  in  1907. 
For  the  two  following  sessions  he  was  principal  of  a  state 
high  school  in  Lee  County.  He  entered  the  Johns  Hopkins 
University  in  October,  1909,  and  pursued  graduate  studies 
in  Political  Science,  History,  Philosophy,  and  Political  Econ 
omy.  In  the  summers  of  1910  and  1911  he  was  instructor 
in  Civil  Government  in  the  Virginia  Summer  Institute  for 
Teachers  at  Big  Stone  Gap,  Virginia.  He  was  a  holder  of 
a  Hopkins  Scholarship  from  Virginia  for  three  years,  1909- 
1912,  and  was  Fellow  in  Political  Science,  1912-1913. 











JUL  1  4  »93 


•  n  KI    A  o  ofift 

JAN  0  3  200 



°CT  2  7  2004 

FORM  NO.  DD  19 

BERKELEY,  CA  94720 



*TThiversiry  of  California